Class Action Medical Negligence Lawsuits
Interviewer: I’ve never been in that situation before, but just based on my poor observation, I’ve noticed the sorts of medication that are available and that are prescribed for people, and then I’ll see them on a commercial, like, “If you have received this sort of blah, blah, blah, call an attorney,” or there’s some sort of study, that after all these years, Medicine-A-whatever has caused this and that for these people, or it’s caused cancer or whatever. Is that a common occurrence?
Bill Levinson: It’s common in the sense that there are lawyers out there looking to find out if they have a class – class meaning thousands of people. For example, I’ve been taking Lipitor for I don’t know how many years, but I saw recently a solicitation on TV for folks who’ve had adverse reaction to Lipitor. Because of the number of drugs, and because of the diversity of the population, it’s more and more coming to the forefront of litigation, because of communication and the diversity of the medication.
In America, medications do not get on the market until the FDA is satisfied that they’re safe. Sometimes it takes a long time for folks to realize, and the same with products. In the seventies there was an IUD product that was sworn to be safe, and it caused horrific injuries in women. It was a ring or a coil or something like that.
What this has generated is really fascinating to me. At the next drug commercial that you listen to or watch, listen for the disclaimers just before they give you the final sales pitch. It’s unbelievable. Most folks wouldn’t go near those drugs, but they figure if their doctor prescribes them, then they’ve got to be okay. That’s what’s behind it: these drug companies are trying to protect themselves. You get a new drug from your doctor; they’ve got a book in there that’s microscopically written, that they feel that that’s disclosure of the problems. I have not done a drug case, although I have sued a pharmacist that filled the wrong drug.
Interviewer: I see all those commercials that say things like, “May cause bodily injury or loss of limbs.”
Bill Levinson: Yeah. I don’t think it’s funny, but for me it’s so ironic and paradoxical.
Client Reluctance Regarding Filing A Medical Negligence Lawsuit
Interviewer: How does someone know that they have a worthy case?
Bill Levinson: Most often, people have a sense that something bad shouldn’t have happened. They have a sense. Now, there are those folks, and very rarely, that just want to sue somebody and haven’t really thought it through, and they figure the lawyer’s going to take the case whether they’re right or not. That’s in a small minority, but they happen. Some are very, very obvious, and people have a sense of it. What they don’t have a sense of isif it’s economically feasible and practical to pursue it.
Interviewer: Could you give me an example of when not to file, like let’s say if it is economically feasible, but the situation calls where it’s not really practically feasible? What would be an example of when not to file?
Bill Levinson: In terms of practically feasible, it’s any case in which the damages are not substantial, no matter what kind of case it is. Now, it can be any kind of thing that you can think of, but generally speaking, if the person recovers quickly, and they recover well, it is not feasible to do that type of case. One thing we haven’t talked about with regard to feasibility is that there are a lot of folks that won’t do it. I have a client that contacted me, her husband went in to have knee replacement surgery, and he died. He died, and he was just in his fifties.
Interviewer: Knee replacement.
Bill Levinson: Yeah, knee replacement, and he did it in a small town down here. There’s no question in my mind that a short investigation would have demonstrated whether or not there was negligence in that. There is just an enormous presumption when something like that happens.
In my case, my dad had heart problems and he was a diabetic. He was a member of an HMO out here. I’d better not say, because I’ll get sued, but he was a member of an HMO, and one of my best friends is a doctor. My internist and I have been friends for close to 40 years. I had him come and see my dad at my dad’s home, and he tested him. He tested his carotid arteries, his heart, and everything, and said, “He has to have surgery because the blood flow in his carotid arteries is so restricted that it’s really aggravating his heart condition.”
He also needed a bypass, I think. I may have read the chart wrong. In any event, my dad goes back to the hospital, and the group that’s taking care of him talks him out of it. They say, “You could die on the table,” you could this, you could that, and my dad wasn’t that old. He died at 68, and he was ill for a couple of years. I know that he should have had the surgery done. I don’t know if he would have been alive today, but he would have lived years longer.
I’m in the business, but my mother, my sister, and my brother would not have anything to do with it. They would not pursue it. The reason, as crazy as seems, is that the surgeon – his caregiver – was our neighbor. No question in my mind that he needed to have the surgery. I had the opinion of a doctor; I had a heart surgeon look at him, also.
Anyway, about the lady that I told you about with the husband’s knee replacement: she wouldn’t pursue it. Although, that’s rare. Most folks are really angry when it happens to somebody they love.
Interviewer: Do you think one of the reasons for hesitance would be that someone trusts their doctor?
Bill Levinson: Very unusual. It’s very, very unusual. Take, for example, an OB/GYN in a small town. He raises everybody in the town. Then he sees a young couple, and he cripples the baby on birth and it’s clearly negligence. You’re going to have a jury trial in that community. Clients go ahead with it, although everybody in the town loves the guy. You can love a man, and he can be a loveable man, but he can screw up; everybody does. The difference is that they bury their mistakes.
Some folks are so heartbroken that they run away from it. They don’t want to live it anymore.
Interviewer: Do you think also, it’s just one of those things where they feel that it’s an uphill battle? Do you think there’s an intimidation factor, also?
Bill Levinson: That’s the lawyer’s job to deal with. If the lawyer takes the case, the client should feel that whether or not they win, that they’ve got the right team in front of them. It certainly is an uphill. Let me tell you, it’s an absolute uphill battle. For years and years and years in the state of Washington, if you had a surgical case against a University of Washington doctor, you had to get an expert outside the case. In that orthodontia case I told you about, both the surgeon and the orthodontist were graduates of the University of Washington School of Dentistry. I had to go to Chicago and I had to go to Boston to get my experts.
Interviewer: If someone’s put in this situation, how quickly should they contact an attorney? It goes without saying, but what are the warning signs? They say, “Hey, you know what? Maybe I should just contact an attorney.”
Bill Levinson: Very rarely – and I’ll tell you with one exception – do people wait, but sometimes people don’t know. Right now, you’ll see a lot of advertising for this wire mesh that they’ve used for hernia and for female issues. The wire mesh was supposed to be the be-all and end-all of repair, and it turned out to be a very, very bad thing, causing a lot of very bad problems.
Some folks had that mesh in their bodies for years, not being aware the problems they had were related, or just not being aware. It’s not that they wouldn’t have done something about it, because they do something about it as soon as they find out. Hence, there’s the one year from discovery of the issue in the statute of limitations. Because of the anger, very rarely do folks wait around two years or three years like sometimes they do with car wrecks and other tort claims.
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