Shame on at­tor­neys who chase un­eth­i­cal claims for profit

Cape Times - - OPINION - Peter Roos Sea Point

I READ with in­ter­est the ar­ti­cle by Kisha van Vu­uren, a pub­lic re­la­tions strate­gist, writ­ten on be­half of the le­gal pro­fes­sion. (“Don’t blame lawyers, blame woe­ful health sys­tem”, Cape Times, Novem­ber 13).

I am a med­i­cal spe­cial­ist who gives medico-le­gal opin­ions for both plain­tiff or de­fen­dant de­pend­ing on the in­di­vid­ual case con­cerned.

Re­gret­tably, there is much truth in the ar­ti­cle by Van Vu­uren, as there are some tragic out­comes from poor care, in both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors.

The le­gal pro­fes­sion can, how­ever, not avoid the fact that some of their meth­ods and eth­i­cal stan­dards when en­ter­ing into medico-le­gal lit­i­ga­tion are some­what du­bi­ous.

As Van Vu­uren gave some ex­am­ples of tragic out­comes, I would like to give you an ex­am­ple of what we are see­ing, which could be called un­eth­i­cal be­hav­iour on the part of at­tor­neys.

I was ap­proached by an at­tor­ney, to give a medico-le­gal re­port on be­half of a woman who was treated in a state clinic.

On go­ing care­fully through all the de­tails of the case, it was quite clear that there was ab­so­lutely no claim of neg­li­gence against this clinic.

In order to save money, I did not write a re­port, but phoned the at­tor­ney and in­formed him of this, telling him that he would not find any spe­cial­ist who would sup­port his claim.

His re­sponse was “that is a pity, but I think I will just give them an­other push to see what I can get”.

This is clearly not a claim on be­half of the woman, who had in fact suf­fered very lit­tle in­con­ve­nience or con­se­quences from what was a mi­nor and well-known com­pli­ca­tion fol­low­ing preg­nancy.

One can only be led to be­lieve that what he was chas­ing was his por­tion of the set­tle­ment.

It is quite clear from the cases I have seen that the at­tor­neys seek­ing profit use peo­ple to trawl for pos­si­ble cases of neg­li­gence, and even em­ploy inside in­form­ers in hos­pi­tals.

Un­for­tu­nately, this method leads to many cases be­ing scouted when there is no case of neg­li­gence to be made. This, how­ever, still leads to time and costs for the de­fen­dant’s at­tor­neys.

The claim that most of these cases are set­tled in court on be­half of the plain­tiff is in­ac­cu­rate, as many cases which have used up ex­pen­sive time do not even make it to the court.

I think it is time for the le­gal pro­fes­sion to come clean on their meth­ods and also to be com­pletely trans­par­ent as to how much they are tak­ing from large set­tle­ments of up to R20-R30 mil­lion.

In my opin­ion, the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion are do­ing a lot to be hon­est about ob­vi­ous cases of neg­li­gence, how­ever the at­tor­neys are not be­ing com­pletely open about their prac­tices.

Once this hap­pens, the an­tag­o­nism be­tween the Depart­ment of Health, pri­vate med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers and the le­gal fra­ter­nity will dis­ap­pear and lead to a sys­tem which ben­e­fits those who have re­ally suf­fered per­sonal in­jury, in­stead of wast­ing valu­able time and money on at­tempts to make money, rather than do the best for those who have suf­fered.

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