These were the words that shot through the air at me like a bullet at my at a recent meeting with my clients, the parents of a 4 year old girl who died in a local emergency room because the ER physician could not admit he did not know what was causing her illness, and his ego would not permit him to call the child’s treating doctor for help. The parents of this little girl asked me possible excuse he had for allowing her to die. When I responded that the defense was that the “plaintiff” would have died regardless of the ER doctor’s actions, that bullet came screaming at me. “You tell them to stop calling her the plaintiff. She is not the plaintiff. She is our daughter,” the mother of this little girl said as tears streamed down her face. Still 6 years later, the loss of her child is just as raw as if it were yesterday.
As attorneys for those who have been injured by medical negligence, we sometimes get caught up in the politics, the business, the unfortunate gamesmanship the law has become, and we forget that the parties in these cases are not plaintiffs or decedents, but daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives. These people that we spend years fighting for in depositions and courtrooms are not just clients and cases and battles and victories. They represent one of the greatest of human tragedies: when a professional charged with protecting and saving life injures and ends life because he or she is careless and forgets that “the patient” sitting in front of her is someone’s daughter, someone’s high school sweetheart, someone’s best friend. The law is a business like all other businesses, but it is much more in the medical negligence field because this business is about trying to prevent unnecessary suffering. We hear the politicians talk about lawyers driving up the costs of healthcare because of “frivolous lawsuits” where lawyers are only out to get quick and easy money. I will tell you that after 18 years of representing victims of medical negligence, none of these cases are easy or quick. I sit next to these families who have lost their heart, only to have some attorney reduce their suffering to dollars and cents or politics. The “how dare you question our doctors” mentality is implicit in their questions. Their inference is that somehow money, which is the sole remedy the law provides these people, will somehow make up for the fact that my clients will never see their daughter start her first day of kindergarten. Will never see her graduate from college. Will never walk her down the aisle. These cases are emotional and exhausting and, simply, wrong. Doctors who spend only minutes with patients, who don’t listen to their patients, who are more worried about insurance coverage than the lives they hold in their hands, are causing unnecessary human suffering. So next time you hear someone say that medical negligence cases drive up costs and are frivolous, I implore you to remember that these cases are not about attacking doctors or driving up costs. They are about people who have suffered brain injuries, who have lost the use of their arms or legs, who will spend the rest of their life in wheelchairs, who have been robbed of years of their life because of misdiagnosis, who have lost their lives. They are not statistics, nor litigants, nor plaintiffs. They are our daughters, our husbands, our mothers, our sons, and if by fighting for them, we can make the practice of medicine just a little bit better, then I am proud to be a part of this business.