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Tell lawmakers you're fed up with lawyers

November 07, 2004|by Daniel J. Weinberg, M.D. F.A.C.S.

To the editor:

As a surgeon in Washington County and a member of the Task Force for Medical Liability Reform at Washington County Hospital, I have been continuing to follow the escapades of the state legislature, which has continued in the latest round of published reports, to whine and complain that the legislative reforms presented by Gov. Robert Ehrlich do not meet their needs.

It is no wonder.

The gang of malpractice attorneys who run the state Senate in Maryland will not permit any liability reform to be enacted into law if it interferes with their ability to make large amounts of money. Don't be mistaken, Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller and his associates in the Senate (and the so-called personal injury attorneys) will argue that their primary goal is to preserve the right of the citizens of Maryland to have the ability to sue physicians and others who provide services or products. However, that claim is unfounded.

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As a member of the committee that has proposed legislation for the state of Maryland, I can tell you that there is no truth to this whatsoever. In reality, the purpose of legislation is to preserve the right of patients to sue, but at the same time to limit the frivolous lawsuits that trail attorneys are only too happy to file in the hopes that a few of these cases will win them money. Between 60 and 70 percent of all settlements go to the attorneys of the plaintiff in a case. Forty percent of the settlement is the fee and another 20 to 30 percent goes to the lawyer's "expenses."

Additional purposes of legislation are to get control of expert witnesses, who often drive these cases. Often, they are hired guns from out of state who don't even practice in the specialty for which they are giving testimony. There is no peer review, which means they can, in fact, say whatever they want without any consequences if their testimony is erroneous. That needs to be changed. If it doesn't sound like any of these recommendations are limiting the plaintiff's right to sue, then you are making the correct assessment.

The only thing that will be gained by forcing the citizens of the state of Maryland to make up the difference in malpractice premiums is that there will be a much larger trough of money to fund malpractice cases. If anyone thinks that this will reduce the number of suits brought in the state of Maryland, then they are just kidding themselves.

Clearly, the physicians cannot continue to shoulder annual increases in malpractice premiums with their fixed revenue and expect to stay in business in Maryland. Remember, doctors have contracts with their patients' insurance carriers. We cannot "pass along" these increases to our patients.

We cannot increase our fees. Something has to change. We don't need to "reinvent the wheel." There is tried and true legislation out there. States like California and Indiana have proven that it can be done and has the effect of lowering costs. It doesn't limit a person's right to sue.

If your readers agree that it would be nice to have a physician at the other end of the phone when they need one, then they need to not only call their legislators and make a stand for legislative reform, but they also need to go to the ballot box when these trial lawyers in the Senate are up for re-election and show them that we do not want them running the state any longer. It is not affordable to the physicians and it is not fair to the citizens of the state to be forced to pay the difference just so the lawyers can continue their reign of primarily frivolous lawsuits which no one in the state but them can afford.

The way it is going right now, the only office that will be open when a person gets sick in the state of Maryland will be the lawyer's office.

Daniel J. Weinberg, M.D. F.A.C.S.
Surgical Associates LLC

Hagerstown

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