The Tracking Bad Doctors Project
Organized by: Mark Nelson
Here is the issue:
The town in which I live is a retirement community with many residents in various stages of declining health. Most are on Social Security and some also have retirement benefits for their years of work. This makes an unfortunate situation as they become prey for the unscrupulous.
I wasn’t aware of what this was like until a recent experience that I had with a local doctor. The experience was so bad that I filed a Small Claims Court suit against him for the amount of his bill. I have never done this before. The idea of Small Claims court is to have a place where the two litigants can come together and say their piece to a neutral party with no lawyers present and have that 3rd party make an impartial decision. For small amounts, what could be simpler? But that is not the way it works in reality.
Because of Arizona rule A.R.S. § 22-504(A), either party can request that the case be moved to Civil Court. If one side has more money than the other side, this is what they do. This totally negates the purpose of the Small Claims Court in the majority of cases. This is particularly true when suing a doctor. It is pretty clear to me that this rule was put there by lawyers for the benefit of lawyers because once you are in the system your opponents lawyer can intimidate you to agreeing to a settlement where you pay far more than your original suit was for. This is because Civil Court is expensive and if you lose, you pay for everything, your lawyer, their lawyer, damages, court costs and witness fees and maybe even more. In addition, they will make you agree that you will make no disparaging remarks about the doctor in any venue. This trumps freedom of speech and keeps other people from finding out the truth about a given doctor. This should not be allowed to be a negotiating item, ever.
Courts will often offer informal mediation where the two parties will try to work out their differences to avoid the cost of going to court. Unlike Small Claims court, mediation hearings do allow lawyers and others to be in attendance. If one does attend without a lawyer, one is at a disadvantage as any slip of the tongue will be used against you by the other side. If the other side thinks they have a strong case, then they will refuse to negotiate which increases the pressure on you to settle on their terms.
Another issue to contend with is the fact that the other side will lie. While lying on the stand or in a prepared statement is to be expected, one will also have to contend with the fact that they will falsify documents to make the documents, like one’s medical record for instance, say what they want them to say. This is difficult for people who bring an honest complaint to the courts as proving that a particular document is fraudulent is expensive and difficult to do.
Finding a lawyer:
The next problem one has is to find a lawyer. As there are many lawyers then there should be no problem, right? Not so. Because there are no lawyers in Prescott who handle cases involving bad doctors be it unprofessional behavior, negligence or outright malpractice, one is therefore forced to find one in Phoenix or Flagstaff. Most attorneys specialize in various fields of law such as wills, probate, real estate and the like. What one needs to find are lawyers that specialize in malpractice or personal injury when suing a doctor. This narrows the field quite a bit. Once you have a selection of lawyers you now need to find one who will take your case. Many won’t take a case for various reasons such as; they are too busy, you have a weak case such that they are not assured victory, you have no monetary credit and other factors.
If you have legal insurance, the field is even smaller. If you are lucky you find a lawyer that will take your case. When that happens you will be informed that you must pay a retainer of around $3,000 to $4,000, $250 per hour for doing anything such as driving to and from Phoenix and Prescott, appearing in court, or reading any documentation at $10 per page. One wonders what happens if someone cannot find a lawyer to defend them within a judicial system that is so Byzantine that it cannot be understood or properly used by the uninitiated. Fortunately, I have not experienced that, yet.
Finding people who have had experiences like yours (witnesses):
The Internet is very helpful in many ways. One can find reviews of doctors on various doctor review sites and help with finding lawyers. This can be helpful in supporting your case if you find someone who has had a similar experience as yours. The problem is that there is often no way to get in touch with them as they often use a pseudo name. On the occasion that one does find such people, they often refuse to write a statement or to testify as they don’t want to get involved.
Basically what I have described is a system that supports those with more money than you and justice is incidental, if it happens at all. One cannot get a fair hearing if the other side drives a case to a cost level where one has to bet their future and all of their savings just on a slim chance that they will prevail in court. Therefore, most will reach some kind of deal where they will agree to not criticize the doctor in a public forum and the doctor continues on a little richer because of the settlement you are forced to make which will include some form of financial “compensation.” Clearly then, the only way to successfully sue a doctor is if there is a well-documented case of serious injury or death.
There must be some better way to complain about doctors without such a cost burden and thus have those doctors reviewed. Maybe complain to the State Licensing Board? Maybe not. There are three cases against this doctor now that were ultimately closed for various reasons, but one cannot find out what their investigation revealed nor why the cases were closed nor what action was taken, if any. There is still one open case against that doctor and that is mine. I don’t expect much though.
Though things seem bleak on the lawsuit battle field at the moment, you can help.
What Your Contributions Will Do:
• Find others who have similar complaints about this doctor (there are about 8 currently)
• Win the case now in court and thus…
• Bring attention to the public of the problem of these doctors
• Provide resources to help people who also have problems with their doctor
• Remove the ability of the defendant to move a case to Civil Court via rule A.R.S. § 22-504(A)
• Establish and maintain a website for the exclusive purpose of tracking these doctors
• Provide resources (advice, reference to good lawyers, etc.)
• Find ways to make it easier for people to complain about these doctors and get something done about them
• Expand the project to a national level
The funding level that I set is arbitrary as I do not know the total cost at the moment as the case has not gone through the court yet. It could be a few thousand dollars up to the amount I posted. Every dollar will go for the stated goal, I will get nothing. If there is money left over it will be returned in proportion to the amount given or given to the charity of the donor’s choice. If the case is won, then everything will be paid back.
Ultimately I am planning a website to out these doctor with lists of resources for people who have had problems such as mine. To be fair though, the plan is to let a doctor know of a complaint against them and then be given a chance to respond in their defense as some people are just vindictive and unfair. In addition, I will post the current events concerning this project and the URL will be posted here when it is ready.
If you like, you can contact me through this email address:
Thanks in advance