Over the last several weeks, some physicians in Trumbull County have initiated a vigorous campaign against what they called ''morally and ethically reprehensible'' actions by attorneys against local physicians. A ''Malpractice White Coat Media Event,'' organized by Dr. Morris Pulliam, chief of the medical staff at Trumbull Memorial Hospital, was held at the Avalon Inn ballroom and all local physicians were invited to attend and to wear their white lab coats to accentuate the message.
A full-page open letter in the local newspapers, co-signed by 77 local physicians, claims that there is a need for medical liability reform to fix a ''broken system'' and threatens an environment so hostile that women may no longer be able to deliver their babies in Trumbull County.
More recently, the Trumbull County Medical Society sent each of the common pleas court judges a letter urging them to use their influence to discourage ''reckless attacks'' on doctors. The letter included a flyer. The flyer threatens adverse ripple effects throughout the community, including reduced access to quality health care and higher health care costs. It even goes so far as to suggest that local doctors will expose their patients to unnecessary radiation and other unnecessary tests in the name of ''defensive medicine.''
Only a few members of our local trial lawyers association represent the victims of medical malpractice. Those few want the community to know that they make every effort to be selective in the cases they accept.
Medical malpractice cases require stringent proof. A physician only commits medical malpractice when he or she fails to do what a reasonable physician would do under similar circumstances and that failure also causes injury or death to a patient. If a doctor acts reasonably, there is no medical malpractice, even if there is a bad outcome.
In addition, Ohio law requires expert testimony from similarly trained physicians.
Even before a lawsuit can be commenced, a claim for medical malpractice requires a supporting affidavit signed by a qualified physician, expressing the opinion that the patient suffered injury or death because the physician being sued was negligent.
It is not enough that there was a bad outcome or that a medical error occurred.
Those of us who represent victims of medical wrongdoing know the system is not broken. It is a system that allows a brain-damaged and crippled little girl to stand tall against the medical community and their insurance companies and fight for the compassion she is legally entitled to recover from those who have caused her injuries. Those who represent such victims are proud of what they do. And we are all proud to live in a community where judges and jurors believe in fairness and justice and will not be intimidated by the reckless threats of a handful of our health care providers.
Those few physicians who supported of Dr. Pulliam's Malpractice White Coat Media Event or signed the letter to the judges or the open letter to the community may be interested in knowing more about their spokesman.
Beginning in 1985, Dr. Morris ''Bud'' Pulliam began a career of serving as a consulting expert in hundreds of medical malpractice cases, supporting claims brought against physicians. According to his own sworn testimony, in an average year he would review between 30 and 40 cases and in 95 percent of those cases he was hired on behalf of the plaintiff. According to his testimony, he has reviewed cases and testified against physicians in malpractice lawsuits in Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Florida, Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Maryland and Ohio. He has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by plaintiffs' attorneys for those services. Ironically, Dr. Pulliam has earned more money assisting in the prosecution of medical malpractice claims against physicians than most attorneys earn.
There is no current malpractice insurance crisis in Trumbull or Mahoning counties.
Ohio Department of Insurance documents show that rates for local physicians are lower today than they were in 2003. The Ohio legislature has passed laws placing a cap on certain damages recoverable in a medical malpractice claim. Fewer attorneys are interested in representing malpractice plaintiffs and lawyers are now rejecting otherwise valid cases. Medical malpractice claims have dropped by 40 percent in the last eight years.
Attorneys are mindful of the fact that we all become patients and depend upon our providers. We have a tremendous amount of respect for doctors and other health care providers who devote their lives to the healing arts.
We wish for greater understanding and fairness for all who are involved in these difficult matters. It is in that spirit that we humbly suggest that the physicians would be better served by a spokesperson who isn't throwing rocks while living in a glass house.
Finally, in an editorial dated March 2, 2012, the Tribune Chronicle suggested a civil discussion to resolve the growing rift between the medical and legal professions as an alternative to the current finger-pointing. Our membership fully endorses the idea. We would be pleased to participate in such a forum - public or private - that would facilitate a full and fair discussion of these difficult and often troubling matters.
Vizmeg is president of the Mahoning Trumbull Academy of Trial Lawyers.