Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Baltimore Sun Shows Some Objectivity On Medical Malpractice

I am so tired of trial lawyers being portrayed as the bad guy. I’m not a bad guy. The dedicated attorneys I work with aren’t bad guys. Yet trial lawyers are a consistent easy target for anyone with an axe to grind about the civil justice system.

Yesterday Ron Miller blogged about the one sided editorials appearing in the Baltimore Sun on the issue of medical malpractice. Ron pointed out how it appears The Sun went out of its way to target trial lawyers in a February 17, 2009 editorial about legislative efforts to increase the caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Sun then printed a letter to the editor from a physician named Mark Haas that actually went after trial lawyers three different times in the same letter.

According to the Maryland Board of Physicians website, Dr. Haas has been licensed in Maryland since 1999, and graduated from medical school in 1982. My review of Maryland court records did not show that Dr. Haas has ever been sued for malpractice in this state. Unless Dr. Haas has been named as a defendant in some other state, it doesn’t appear that his views can be chalked up to being an unhappy litigant. So I am unable to assign an easy motive to Dr. Haas going out of his way to attack Maryland medical malpractice lawyers that don’t appear to have done anything to him.

I got a good chuckle out of Dr. Haas’ shot at “well heeled trial lawyers” last night after I drove my 2005 Honda home to my palatial Odenton condo. The servants had the night off, so I read The Sun online while I ate a sandwich. Last time I checked, Hopkins docs weren’t exactly crowding the line at area soup kitchens. I would imagine that most professionals are compensated in a way that reflects their education and efforts, including Johns Hopkins pathologists as well as trial lawyers.
I don’t know why Dr. Haas hates trial lawyers so much, but I don’t have anything against doctors. However, I will not hesitate to file a lawsuit against any defendant who has negligently caused an injury. In my career I have filed suits against doctors, other lawyers, police officers, and even a sitting judge on the District Court of Maryland. Dr. Haas’ bias stumps me, especially since he does not apear to be one of the doctors responsible for the bulk of malpractice claims.

When the first editorial was printed, I went to the Sun’s website and checked out the biographies of the editorial board. Peter Jensen, a member of the editorial board says that “[i]t’s easy to be against taxes, trial lawyers, or rabid dogs.” Now, I understand Peter was trying to say he likes to challenge conventional beliefs and was using taxes, trial lawyers and rabid dogs as examples. But what does it say about the editorial board that at least one member thinks being opposed to trial lawyers is a conventional societal belief? Is this how we end up with an editorial and a letter to the editor printed in The Sun espousing the perceived societal belief that trial lawyers are something to be opposed?

Today the Sun evened the score a little, printing a letter with a more even-handed view. Robert Oshel pointed out in his letter that the solution to rising malpractice rates is less malpractice, not limiting victim compensation. He correctly points out that a small minority of practicing physicians is responsible for the lion’s share of malpractice claims. I would like to see the medical profession devote the energy it uses for attacking trial lawyers to self policing. No matter what your views are about the legal profession, I think anyone would agree that fewer victims is a sure-fire way to reduce malpractice claims and insurance rates.

Until there are no more negligent doctors causing injuries, our Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers will continue trying to help injured victims.

Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Speaks On Professionalism

Last night I attended a talk sponsored by the Maryland Association for Justice. The featured speaker was the Hon. H. Patrick Stringer of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, who was speaking on the issue of professionalism as applied to litigating jury cases.

Judge Stringer worked as a civil defense attorney for 25 years before being appointed to the bench. He is also the first alumni of my alma mater, Calvert Hall College, to be appointed to the Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Much of what Judge Stringer talked about will seem obvious to a competent lawyer, but it is always good to be reminded of certain points:
– Don’t interrupt opposing counsel or the court.
– Be clear and concise in oral and written argument.
– Be candid with the court. This includes making sure the cases you cite say what you say they do. If you lie or try to mislead a judge they will never forget, and you might get a letter you don’t want from the Attorney Grievance Commission.
– Be prepared. This means showing up with your proposed voir dire and jury instructions ready. I was amazed that there are lawyers who show up for a jury trial without proposed instructions. Maybe it’s just me, but I look at the application of law to facts as sort of important in a jury trial.

– Do your research. Judges are not neccessarily experts in the substantive law that applies to your case. Part of your job as an advocate is to arrive ready to educate the court.
– Be courteous. You don’t need to litigate every issue that can be litigated. If you can work something out without harming your case, do it.

These are all great tips to keep in mind.

New Baltimore City Judges

Governor Martin O’Malley has nominated two new judges to serve in Baltimore City.
Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill was a partner at Baltimore law firm Gordon Feinblatt. Prior to that he served as Chief of Litigation in the Maryland Attorney General’s office under former Attorney General (and gubernatorial father-in-law) Joseph Curran. He will be taking the seat on the Circuit Court for Baltimore City that was vacated by the retirement of the Hon. Carol Smith.

Gregory Sampson has been nominated to fill the seat on the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City that because available due to the retirement of the Hon. Charlotte Cooksey. Prior to his appointment, he served as a Juvenile and Family Master for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City since 1990.

I don’t know much about either of these two new judges. It doesn’t seem like either has any particular experience in personal injury litigation. Of course, it still remains to be seen what kind of cases these two new judges will be hearing. I wish them both luck in their new positions.

Who Says My Baltimore Is a Judicial Hellhole?

There is an entity called the American Tort Reform Association. It says that its primary purpose is “to educate the general public about: how the American civil justice system operates; the role of tort law in the civil justice system; and the impact of tort law on the public, private and business sectors of society.”

Now, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? That sounds like it might be something good for society. Well, I was educated in the Catholic Schools, and one of the things I was taught was to be skeptical and to consider the source of the information I am given. So let’s see- who are the nice folks that make up the ATRA?

According to the ATRA website, here are some of the members: The American Medical Association, State Farm Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, Medical Mutual Insurance, Pfizer, Physician Insurers Association of America, Pharmaceutical Reasearch & Manufacturers of America, American Trucking Associations, and Wyeth, among others.

See any consumer groups? Nope. How about representatives of victims of dangerous drugs or medical malpractice? Yeah, me either. It looks like the members seem to be comprised of giant insurance companies, big business, doctors’ insurers and associations, and pharmaceutical and manufacturing giants. Totally unbiased, I’m sure.

The ATRA publishes a yearly list of “Judicial Hellholes.” This must be part of the “education” the ATRA offers the public.

The 2008 list includes Baltimore, Maryland as a jurisdiction on the “Watch List”. This is because of high verdicts in Asbestos and Lead Paint cases, and because Baltimore personal injury lawyers are challenging Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages. There is no mention of the horrific injuries leading to these verdicts. There is no mention that asbestos manufacturers knew their products were harmful, or of the hundreds of millions of dollars they made on the backs of the workers they poisoned . Or of the slum landlords repeatedly renting dwelllings containing hazardous lead paint while they hide behind corporate entities that own only one run down building. Or of the horrifically injured who are deprived of their constitutional right to a jury trial by Maryland’s unjust damages caps.

You’re right. I’m not exactly unbiased. But I’m not out here pretending to be anything but what I am: a Baltimore personal injury lawyer who fights on the side of the average person against the business and insurance giants that make up the ATRA. But do me a favor, and consider both sides before you reach a conclusion on issues involving legal reform.

Every verdict the ATRA complains about was rendered by a jury of six regular people from Baltimore. These juries are made up of us. The ATRA is saying the people of Baltimore, Maryland can’t be trusted to do the right thing in deciding the lawsuits that they are asked to judge. The ATRA advocates taking these decisions away from regular people, and limiting the decisions juries are allowed to make.

The right to a fair trial by jury is so fundamental in the United States that it is writtten into the Constitution. Wake up. If the founding fathers trusted us to do the right thing, why is big business trying to take that away? Go ahead, don’t believe me. But check the facts on both sides- Keep an eye out for a press release on this issue by Wayne Willoughby, President of the Maryland Association for Justice.