TORT REFORM Docs in a Box

Article excerpt

A trend we have been following on these pages with amazement for some time may have accelerated, judging by an Aug. 10 story the Florida Times-Union published from the Dallas Morning News, examining the evolving relationship between doctors and lawyers.

United against what is perceived as a common enemy -- managed care -- the two groups seem closer than ever.

Is it money and greed, as the story suggested, or is it devotion to the plight of the sick and injured, as doctors and lawyers say?

Whatever it is, the Morning News said, has increased the number and size of jury awards.

Lately, doctors have gone beyond just testifying on behalf of plaintiffs. They now refer patients to lawyers if they see what they think is medical malpractice by other physicians.

"In the biggest surprise of all, treating physicians have actually hired their own plaintiff's attorneys to sue their employers, their colleagues and health insurance companies," the Morning News said.

A Florida man who is both doctor and lawyer notes that doctors can make good money helping lawyers with litigation. With physician income declining under the belt-tightening of managed care, that could be a factor.

Such inter-professional harmony, however, is shaky in West Virginia, where medical malpractice suits are so prevalent that the situation is described as a crisis.

West Virginia is one of only two states where doctors are taxed for the privilege of being allowed to practice. Residents of West Virginia have a tendency to sue at the drop of a scalpel, which is one reason malpractice insurance rates are soaring. …