Archive for July, 2009

Early apology and compensation in medical error cases cuts costs

Here is a report on the positive benefits of an active apology policy in a large hospital system. This article reports on the experience at the University of Michigan Health System. It confirms what I’ve long suspected. By admitting errors, apologizing, and paying early compensation, the University of Michigan system has cut claim numbers and claim costs in half.

Wow! As an attorney who represents injured patients, I think this represents great news. While there’s a lot of talk radio heat about medical negligence cases, any attorney who has handled them will tell you a different stories. They’re tough and stressful cases for the patients and their families, not to mention for the lawyers. The medical liability industry has done a great job of digging in against legitimate claims. As a result, many claims with merit simply get turned away.

The other thing is that many patients simply want the one thing that the medical system won’t give them.  An apology is a powerful thing. But the medical liability industry has mistakenly concluded that apologizing is a bad idea. Talk about writing up an order for a lawsuit.

The U. of Michigan system provides a promising model. Maybe this really is an era of change?

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Mayor Adams’ former spokesman files suit

From Willamette Week comes this report that Mayor Adams former spokesman, Wade Nkrumah, filed suit in Multnomah County over statements made by Mayor Adams. According to the news report, Mayor Adams said that Nkrumah resigned because of the stress of the job.

This raises interesting issues in the area of defamation. Defamation claims arise when someone makes a false statement that injures your reputation. Some types of statements are so general or trifling that the court can dismiss a defamation claim when the false statement isn’t serious enough.

In legal talk, trivial statements are not defamatory. So one of the interesting battles in this case will be whether statements about Mr. Nkrumah’s ability to take stress qualify as defamatory.

I’m guessing that they will and should. After all, isn’t that a “he can’t take it” statement about Mr. Nkrumah’s ability to do his job? Doesn’t it really imply that he’s not up to snuff. I can certainly see him winning that issue. I’ve argued as much about similar statements made about a commercial pilot.

This has the potential to be one of those noteworthy cases. I’m sure that has nothing to do with Mayor Adams. Nothing at all.

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West Virginia National Guard members file hexavalent chromium injury case against KBR

Here is a news report on a recent filing by West Virginia National Guard soldiers against KBR for injury from hexavalent chromium while serving in Iraq. The West Virginia Guard soldiers were exposed to sodium dichromate at the same facility as Indiana and Oregon Guard soldiers.  Sodium dichromate contains hexavalent chromium, a toxic chemical that can cause cancer.

According to the linked news report, at least 125 West Virginia soldiers may have been exposed. According to the same source, KBR “‘did not knowingly harm the troops.’”

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Oregon Supreme Court suspends Portland injury attorney Mike Shinn

The continuing saga of Portland injury attorney Mike Shinn is a sad one to behold. Here is a report from The Oregonian that the Oregon Supreme Court suspended Shinn this week for violating the court’s order. The court apparently ordered that Shinn not take money from his trust account while his disciplinary case is pending.

This is only the latest chapter on a story that’s been going for a while. Prior background here. I can’t help but have a heavy heart. The guy was a warrior who did all manner of great work for injured Oregonians.

Regardless of his great works, it looks like he’s crossed lines that should not be crossed. Let me be clear about what I mean. Assuming that the news report is accurate, he violated a court’s order and took money from his trust account that he was told not to take.

The first is bad because whether we agree with an order or not, Oregon lawyers are officers of the court who are bound by rules. Those rules include following court orders. If we disagree with an order, we seek review or otherwise appeal. Ignoring or disobeying a court order is a pretty serious matter that must have consequences.

Worse than that, the order focused on money in a client trust account. That’s client money, and an Oregon lawyer can only take it if the lawyer is legally entitled to do so. When  you’re not entitled to take money, doing so is a form of theft or conversion.

If he took client money, Mike has to go. No exception, no debate.

I have zero inside information about this, but I imagine that Mike Shinn is fighting with some major demons.  Even so, Oregonians have to trust that our legal system has integrity. That trust requires that the Oregon State Bar and Oregon Supreme Court take necessary steps to protect the public.

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Oregon National Guard medical monitoring bill passes Oregon Legislature

This is a belated follow-up on pending legislation to provide relief to Oregon National Guard members who were exposed to sodium dichromate in Iraq in 2003. By way of full disclosure, I’m part of a legal team representing Oregon Guard members who were exposed to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali facility. We are pursuing claims for injured soldiers against KBR.

Background on the legislation is here.  The short version is that it creates a fund that will help exposed Oregon National Guard members who develop cancer in the future.  According to the legislative history, Sen. Carter carried the bill in the Senate after it passed the House, and it passed by an overwhelming majority.

It’s generally good news for our soldiers, with one hitch.  Unfortunately, the state of Oregon’s finances left the effort underfunded. But I’m guessing that Rep. Shields and others who worked tirelessly on this bill will see to supplementing the funding in the future.

Many thanks are owed to Rep.  Chip Shields and to Larry Roberta and Scott Ashby for their testimony.

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Governor Palin discovers the need for an open civil justice system

I was taken by this 4th of July missive from Governor Palin’s attorneys relating to a claim for defamation. I know nothing of the statements or claims, but apparently Gov. Palin’s legal team takes issue with those who claim that Gov. Palin resigned because of a pending corruption investigation.

Like I say, I don’t know a thing about it and have no opinion about any of it. But what catches my eye is that Gov. Palin and her legal team are not bashful about resorting to the courts to assert claims for defamation.

I suppose that this is as it should be, but I can’t help but chuckle. I know that Gov. Palin has complained about too many lawsuits, frivolous lawsuits and the like many times over. Even so, she does not hesitate to threaten litigation when her ox is being gored.

I have no quarrel with her upset or the prospect that she might choose to sue. But let’s be clear that those who resort to the courts should have no basis to question others who do exactly the same thing.

In the case of Gov. Palin, defamation is a tricky claim. It requires proof of false statements. It also requires proof that the false statement caused injury to reputation. I have a hard time seeing how Gov. Palin could prove injury to reputation, even if the statements are false. But that, of course, is a question for a jury.

At bottom, I will forever more say, “Oink!” anytime Gov. Palin or her supporters criticize others who might seek relief through the civil justice system. After all, if it’s acceptable for Gov. Palin to use the civil justice system with what might be a questionable claim, the rest of us should not be hit with a higher standard.

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