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'Patient First' legislation does not close loopholes, it widens them for doctors (Viewpoint)

I'm writing to respond to Dr. John Bizon's recent Viewpoint article in support of the pending bill in the Michigan Legislature titled the "Patients First Reform Package."

This is the kind of title that legislators give to bills when they want to conceal their true objectives, much the same as the North Koreans did when they named themselves the Democratic Republic of North Korea.

In truth, this bill is a shameless attempt to put patients last and medical malpractice insurance companies first. There is no evidence for Bizon's suggestion that malpractice laws in Michigan somehow limit the number of doctors in Michigan or drives them to neighboring states where the laws are generally much fairer to patients than they are in Michigan.

It is true, as he points out, that not enough doctors go into pediatrics, family practice, and general medicine, but certainly Bizon must know that most doctors try to avoid those specialties, just as he did, because there is much more money to be made in other specialties such as surgery, anesthesiology or radiology.

I am most interested in his comment that there is a loophole that allows trial lawyers to take default judgments against doctors by failing to notify the doctors that they are being taken to court.

I have been a trial lawyer for longer than Bizon has been a surgeon, and I'm ashamed to admit that I have never heard of this loophole. The law that I follow requires that I give a doctor written notice six months before filing suit -- and then personally serve him with the suit papers when the case is filed.

Bizon also alleges that there is a way for lawyers to collect interest payments on work they have not yet performed, another loophole that somehow escaped me. Like all other lawyers who handle medical cases, I don't get paid until the case is over. In the meantime, I finance the cost of the litigation until it is completed, and I don't collect interest on those payments either.

What this bill is designed to accomplish is to make all doctors immune from the laws that apply to the rest of us. If you or I injure someone -- we are expected to pay for the damage that we caused. That's why we buy insurance. The bill that Bizon likes says that when incompetent or drunk (yes, I've seen that, too) doctors injure someone the doctor's insurance company won't have to pay. Instead, the cost of the follow-up medical care and lost wages will be the responsibility of the injured patient or the taxpayers -- people like you and me.

To claim that this puts the patient first elevates chutzpah to a whole new level.

Source: M-Live at http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2012/06/loopholes_in_the_system.html

James Ford is Kalamazoo attorney who has been practicing medical malpractice for more than 30 years. He is a member of the Michigan Association of Justice, the Kalamazoo County Trial Lawyers Association and the negligence section of the State Bar Association.

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