A patient enters your office for an examination relating to an injury. They tell you that they were involved in an accident and they describe the resulting injuries to you. At that moment, you are likely (and understandably) concerned more about the injuries and how to get the patient on the path to recovery rather than wondering whether your patient will be making any legal claims related to the accident. However, upon conclusion of the exam, your patient unexpectedly asks you for a recommendation to an attorney they can consult with regarding the accident. At this point, some doctors may choose to decline the request for a variety of reasons. Others may willingly suggest the name of an attorney -likely based on their own past experiences with the attorney, perhaps a friend, relative, patient, or someone whom the doctor has dealt with in a medical-legal context in the past. In any event, the following are factors that you should at least consider if you do make an attorney recommendation to a patient.
1) Does the attorney specialize in personal injury claims?
For the most part, gone are the days of the attorney who claimed to be a “general practitioner.” There is simply too much law out there and too many different practice specialties to be competent in all. (Does this sound familiar to the medical dilemma?) An attorney who specializes in personal injury claims or litigation will be vastly familiar with the legal aspects of such claims and, equally important, will have a sound understanding of the medical terminologies important to injuries common to such claims.< 2) Does the attorney have sufficient experience and/or competency handling injury claims?
This is not a suggestion that an attorney who is relatively inexperienced cannot competently handle injury claims. Many young attorneys will have that “knack” for doing their work at a level sustained by only much more experienced attorneys. That said, as a general rule, you should have at least some understanding as to the experience and competency levels of attorneys you recommend to your patients.
3) What is the attorney’s reputation in the community?
Within the medical community, injury attorneys may be loved about as much as a root canal! Doctors should have some understanding of the general reputation of the attorney for providing good legal work before they recommend that attorney to their patient. Reputation can and often includes whether the attorney genuinely cares for the client or is more interested in the percentage of the settlement that will be received when the case is closed.
4) Does the attorney appear to be prepared?
When you are asked to meet with an attorney to discuss your patient’s case, does the attorney show up on time? Does he appear to have read the medical records in advance, or does he show up without any understanding of what the injury involves? Does the attorney ask questions that lead you to conclude that they have, in fact, read the file and understand the case from a medical-legal context? Your time is valuable – nobody benefits if the attorney is late or unprepared for meetings.
5) Is the attorney thorough when working with the client’s doctor?
There will be times when you will be asked to testify on behalf of your patient, either in court or by deposition. In my experience, most doctors do not relish the idea of having to provide testimony. Clearly, this interferes with your time working with patients. For some, it is just plain uncomfortable to be asked to do something that is not routine or typical. There may be a fear of possibly being embarrassed in court. All of these reasons are understandable. However, a good attorney will spend time in advance of trial or deposition to go over the medical history of the patient, consider (or rule out) any pre-accident medical history that may impact your opinion, review certain questions and your anticipated answers to those questions, as well as to discuss what you can expect from the opposing attorney when he or she cross-examines you.
There are almost certainly many other factors that may be considered important. The above-listed ones are those that I have found to be very important as part of my interaction with doctors over the past 15 years. Hopefully, these will assist you in your dealings with your patients.
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