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Research Institute: Lawsuits and Money

It is commonly said that lawsuits are not “really” about money. But, according to the Rules of Civil Procedure (the rules of court), money is the only remedy that a court of law can award. Therefore, unless one is interested in money, there is no legitimate reason to file a lawsuit. Consistent with this, plaintiff lawyers regularly advertise, “Injured by medical care? Get the compensation you deserve,” which suggests that a desire for money is what drives patients to sue.

The study which follows evaluated phone calls which were placed to plaintiff law firms by patients (who were inquiring about suing their physician). The authors found that 50% of callers cited financial difficulties and 33% of callers were unemployed.

Characteristics of Potential Plaintiffs in Malpractice Litigation

OBJECTIVE: To characterize patients calling plaintiff attorneys' offices and claiming to have suffered injury caused by medical negligence.

DESIGN: Telephone interviews with an inception cohort of callers to law firms with malpractice complaints before the callers talk to attorneys.

SETTING: Six law offices in five states. PARTICIPANTS: 502 of 730 callers over 10 randomly selected days in 1991.

MEASUREMENTS: Demographics of potential plaintiffs, types of health care providers named by callers, factors prompting calls, economic and noneconomic motivations for claims, and disposition of claims. RESULTS: An average of 12 calls per office per day were received by law firms concerning malpractice complaints. Many factors affected patients' decisions to call: poor relationships with providers before an injury (53%); television advertising by law firms (73%); explicit recommendations by health care providers to seek legal counsel (27%); impressions of not being kept informed or appropriately referred by providers; and financial concerns (for example, 36% with earned income and outstanding medical bills had bills equaling or exceeding 50% of their annual income, 33% were unemployed, and 31% lacked health insurance). One in 30 calls led to the filing of a lawsuit.

CONCLUSIONS: Calls to plaintiff law firms by patients are common, are motivated by diverse factors, represent dissatisfaction with modern health care, and infrequently lead to lawsuits.

Huycke LI, Huycke MM.
Characteristics of Potential Plaintiffs in Malpractice Litigation.
Ann Int Med. 1994;120(9):792-798

Medical-legal education with a passion for medicine and compassion for patients.