Doctors refusing to treat Lawyers

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    published on tuesday, june 15, 2004 by the associated press
    malpractice debate takes ugly turn
    doctors angrily shout down proposal to deny lawyers health care
    by don babwin
    the long-running battle over the high cost of malpractice insurance has taken an ugly turn. many doctors blame trial lawyers and their malpractice suits for causing huge jumps in insurance premiums. lawyers blame it on the insurance industry.

    a south carolina surgeon dropped a patient when he found out her husband was a trial lawyer. in new hampshire, a neurosurgeon told the head of the state's trial lawyers that he wouldn't treat him for non-emergencies. a plastic surgeon in mississippi refused to treat the daughter of a state lawmaker because of his stand on malpractice suits.

    at this week's meeting of the american medical association, many doctors stayed out of the fray. they angrily shouted down a proposal by dr. j. chris hawk of charleston, s.c., to refuse treatment for attorneys involved in medical malpractice cases.

    but the actions of other doctors and hospitals suggests that plenty of them agree that taking out their anger on lawyers - and sometimes their families - is an acceptable response to what they see as a threat to their livelihood.

    "if somebody takes a position that is very deleterious to your welfare, you have a right not to do business with him," said dr. clinton "rick" miller, a neurosurgeon in portsmouth, n.h. miller did just that, telling tim coughlin, president of the state's trial lawyers association, that he would not treat him for elective surgery because he lobbied against limits on malpractice lawsuits.

    "he's one of the reasons i have $84,000 medical practice premiums even though i've never had a malpractice judgment against me in my life," said miller, who also emphasized that he would treat coughlin in an emergency.

    coughlin said miller's anger is misplaced.

    "his insurance company is charging him too much," coughlin said monday.

    while miller said he would have no problem treating coughlin's family, hawk would. he dropped a patient when he found out her husband was a prominent local trial attorney.

    "i don't think it violates the hippocratic oath," he said.

    nor, apparently did dr. michael kanosky, a plastic surgeon in mississippi. just last week it was reported that kanosky refused to treat the daughter of a state lawmaker who opposed limits in damage lawsuits against physicians in the state.

    "he asked me who i worked for and then asked me who my father was," kimberly banks told the associated press. "i told him (state rep.) earle banks. he told me, 'i can't see you because your father is against tort reform."

    kanosky was in chicago for the ama meeting but did not immediately return telephone calls for comment. he earlier told a mississippi television station that he believed treating the woman would be a conflict of interest because his wife is a lobbyist for doctors.

    doctors say that such cases are rare. dr. ken printen, the president of illinois state medical society, said he has never heard of any doctor in the state refusing care to an attorney _ nor should it ever happen.

    "to deny somebody treatment just because he's a lawyer, you just can't do that," he said.

    at the ama's annual meeting a committee recommended that the policy-making delegates reject hawk's proposal, saying it would "jeopardize and sidetrack" the group's efforts to combat high insurance rates and malpractice lawsuits. the delegates endorsed the rejection by voice vote tuesday without debate.

    a number of doctors at the meeting agreed with the committee's concern. several said that they would never deny medical care to a lawyer.

    joseph selby, a doctor from morgantown, w. va., said his 12-year-old son has a friend whose attorney father recently won a $6 million judgment against the hospital where selby works.

    "do i hate him? would i not treat him? would i not treat his son? of course not," selby said. "i don't criticize attorneys for doing what the law allows. we need to change our legal system."

    but there are indications that the fight over medical malpractice is getting more contentious.

    earlier this year, a furor erupted over a database that was billed as the first to profile plaintiffs, their lawyers and expert witnesses in malpractice cases in texas and other states. the web site, www.doctorsknow.us, shut down after critics accused it of blacklisting patients who had sued doctors for malpractice.

    in new jersey, dr. george ciechanowski has sued the state's medical society, claiming other doctors have boycotted his practice because of his support for a medical malpractice reform plan they opposed.

    and in texas, a nursing student claims she was dismissed from her job at a hospital because her husband works for a firm that handles medical malpractice cases.

    it all adds to "an alarming trend in a kind of vigilante-style behavior for what appears to be an extremist group of doctors ... looking to punish innocent patients and their attorneys who help them exercise their constitutional rights," said dan lambe of texas watch, a consumer research and advocacy group that helped publicize the web site.

    this anger is showing up in more subtle ways, too. lawyer ken suggs said some doctors are becoming less willing to help attorneys when called to provide their expert opinions.

    "it's a little bit harder to get their cooperation in those things," said suggs, who like hawk practices in south carolina.

    but suggs agrees with fellow lawyers who think doctors' anger with them is misplaced.

    "we've always considered this an insurance issue," he said. "their malpractice insurance is rising, as is ours."
    © copyright 2004 associated press
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  4. 26 Comments so far...

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    Hmmm...I can see being leery of treating a lawyer, but honestly--some of these doctors are refusing to treat out of spite. I don't see how that is very professional. "Your daddy doesn't support tort reform so I'm not going to treat you."
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    Just a few thoughts....So do nurses have rights to refuse to take care of certain patients? Isn't this a form of discrimination?
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    I wouldnt want to treat a trial lawyer either, it would be like trying to kiss a pitbull.
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    I don't blame doctors for not treating lawyers. Why should they put themselves in a vulnerable position? I resent it when family members or patients make outlandish demands and then when they can't get their way, they threaten a suit. We need tort reform badly in this country. Maybe we should do as the English used to do, if one brings a suit without merits and loses then they incur financial losses upon themselves. I bet they would think twice before bringing a frivolous suit in order to get something for nothing.
  9. 0
    The problem is with the INSURANCE COMPANIES not the lawyers. The lawyers are acting within the scope of their practice. Just like everyone here, they work for a profit.

    Laws need to be changed. Make it less profitable to take frivolous lawsuits. Perhaps as the previous poster mentioned (as they do in GB).

    The biggest problem is the insurance companies. The insurance companies make a lot of money. A small percentage of physicians lose big malpractice claims and cost the insurance compaies money. (A large percentage do not have claims.) But that is the purpose of having insuarance, isn't it?

    We have all experienced the same thing. By law we must have insurance to drive. We have to drive means we have no choice. We have to pay whatever the insurance compay says. Yes, we can go to a competitor, but the rates won't be much different-they all know they can charge us whatever they want, as long as they are close to what their competitor charges. Many of us have had insurance rates increase despite having a clean record, (just as the physicians have.) Insurance companies are reaping huge profits because the can charge whatever they want.

    I am not advocating that we should drop the insurance requirement, but that there needs to be more regulation/laws governing the way insurance companies do business.

    The doctors are mad because they have to pay high premiums. The insurance companies blame it on the lawyers, but who are the docs paying?

    FOLLOW THE MONEY.
  10. 0
    i can see where you might be wary of treating someone whose husband is a famous trial lawyer because of the obvious litigious nature of that person. however i think you should just take more time explaining everything documenting everything, viedotaping everything if it is allowed and making absolutely sure that standard procedure is followed in all dealings with the person. I really can't see how you can just deny treatment because of someones occupation or that of their family members. I mean what if attorneys decide to not represent doctors in any cases regardless of the nature just because they are in favor of tort reform?
  11. 0
    Medicine is a business. Just like Law pracitces are businesses.

    If one business is interferring in another's business you can bet that the interferring business may not be welcome as a customer or client of the business that is being jepordized.

    Many businesses go so far as to post signs that they "reserve the right to refuse to do business with anyone."

    Misplaced anger? Not entirely. Tort reform is needed. Trial Lawyers oppose it. Trial Layers are the primary benificiaries to the current laws.

    We like to think that some how medicine is different though. (that they will treat everyone. Yet, there is no nobility in treating someone you know may attack you.) There is a humanitarian element to this profession and a code of ethics. Now with that in mind. Lawyers are suppose to be humantarian and have a code of ethics. Yet, these trial lawyers are lineing their pockets at the expense of others. And at the expense of a profession that saves and preserves lives.

    If you have heard some of these trial lawyers talking away from the job even, you would be shocked. It is as if the physicians were the enemy and had to be stompped out. They truly believe that physicians need the lawyers to police them or otherwise they would be killing an maiming people all over the place. (I kind of have somewhat an inside track on this with serveral friends who are well established personal injury lawyers.) Yes, I am a weary myself of them. But maintiaing the friendship is valuable for getting inside their heads.

    No one here has mentioned that obvious. Insurance rates are high on the type of insurance that is most likely to attract very large claims. Nursing malpractice is cheap. Because there are few claims and even fewer excessive ones. Medical Insurance is sky high.

    If I am a good driver I get lower rates. And if I live in a state were there are a lot of claims against the insurance companies EVEN IF I am the best driver in the world I will pay a higher preimium.
    Last edit by Agnus on Jun 21, '04
  12. 0
    Quote from Agnus
    Medicine is a business. Just like Law pracitces are businesses.

    If one business is interferring in another's business you can bet that the interferring business may not be welcome as a customer or client of the business that is being jepordized.

    Many businesses go so far as to post signs that they "reserve the right to refuse to do business with anyone."

    Misplaced anger? Not entirely. Tort reform is needed. Trial Lawyers oppose it. Trial Layers are the primary benificiaries to the current laws.

    We like to think that some how medicine is different though. (that they will treat everyone. Yet, there is no nobility in treating someone you know may attack you.) There is a humanitarian element to this profession and a code of ethics. Now with that in mind. Lawyers are suppose to be humantarian and have a code of ethics. Yet, these trial lawyers are lineing their pockets at the expense of others. And at the expense of a profession that saves and preserves lives.

    If you have heard some of these trial lawyers talking away from the job even, you would be shocked. It is as if the physicians were the enemy and had to be stompped out. They truly believe that physicians need the lawyers to police them or otherwise they would be killing an maiming people all over the place. (I kind of have somewhat an inside track on this with serveral friends who are well established personal injury lawyers.) Yes, I am a weary myself of them. But maintiaing the friendship is valuable for getting inside their heads.

    No one here has mentioned that obvious. Insurance rates are high on the type of insurance that is most likely to attract very large claims. Nursing malpractice is cheap. Because there are few claims and even fewer excessive ones. Medical Insurance is sky high.

    If I am a good driver I get lower rates. And if I live in a state were there are a lot of claims against the insurance companies EVEN IF I am the best driver in the world I will pay a higher preimium.

    So then you think its right for a doctor to refuse to even treat the families of trail lawyers--the 8 year old who has no idea what daddy does? Or the wife who may in fact, be a nurse? Or the husband who may be school teacher, and has no relation to trials and malpractice.

    On the other side of the coin, some doctors are guilty of negilgence and dangerous practice, and lawyers fight for compensation for patients who really have suffered. Is that wrong? Doctors should be working for stronger laws to remove incompetent physicians from practice, not trying to shield them.

    And as someone already said, it is insurance reform that is needed. Tort reform doesn't do anything to keep insurance companies from raising their rates. Everyone likes to cite the case of California, which initiated tort reform in the 1970s, as a "model." Those in favor of tort reform always cite the situation in CA, how rates stabilized as a result of tort reform. But they are incorrect. Insurance rates continued to go up, until INSURANCE REFORM was enacted in 1986. And that's what put a lid on malpractice rates, not the tort reform. Tort reform, without any accompanying legislation on insurance, will only serve to increase the wealth of insurance companies.

    Perhaps these doctors should be looking at refusing to treat insurance executives instead.
  13. 0
    [quote=roxannekkb]so then you think its right for a doctor to refuse to even treat the families of trail lawyers--the 8 year old who has no idea what daddy does? or the wife who may in fact, be a nurse? or the husband who may be school teacher, and has no relation to trials and malpractice.

    yes, i do. the physician can be at greater risk in these situations than he would be treating the lawyer himself. no the child is not responsible for what his father does. the father is responsible for the child and if he chooses to do things that adversely effect his family (spouse, child etc) the whole family unfortunately suffers. he is responsible for the suffering. for example if you as a parent and spouse commit a crime your whole family suffers, if you make a bad financial decision your whole family suffers, if you are fired from your job..... bottom line it is not someone outside the family (the md) who is responsible for what a family member does that causes you suffering.
    i am not saying the physician should not treat these people. i am saying i understand his refusal


    on the other side of the coin, some doctors are guilty of negilgence and dangerous practice, and lawyers fight for compensation for patients who really have suffered. is that wrong?

    no. i did not say that is wrong.

    doctors should be working for stronger laws to remove incompetent physicians from practice, not trying to shield them.

    perhaps you are not aware of the function of the board of medical examiners.
    perhaps you are not aware that physicians support removal of incompetent and dangerous physicians from practice. have you not listened to the docotors' discussion about this?

    perhaps, we need both tort and insurance reform.
    Last edit by Agnus on Jun 21, '04


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