Courting Justice: Medical and Legal Ethicists – Don’t Let Titles Fool You

August 22, 2013

By Robert N. Hunn

I recently settled a case for a gentleman who suffered severe brain damage as a result of a complication from sickle cell disease. It was our position that the physician failed to properly treat the complication and that proper treatment would have avoided the brain damage. I was sure I was right on the medicine; meaning that the standard of medical care I was advocating was correct and accurate.

The defense hired a medical expert who opined that doing nothing was the standard of care and that the doctor practiced good medicine. The defense expert held himself out as an expert in medical ethics. Certainly, if the case had gone to trial, he would have told the jury all about his expertise in medical ethics, thus making him more credible before the jury. Yet I saw nothing ethical in his opinion that you let a man, who you knew was at increased risk for brain damage, suffer brain damage rather than give him treatment to avoid it.

I had a case a few years ago where a lawyer’s negligence led to his own client being sued by a third party. Rather than admit to his client that he messed up and was the reason the client got sued, he hid his negligence and convinced his client to hire him as the defense attorney in the case. After four years of the lawyer collecting exorbitant fees, the client found out about the secret and hired me to sue the lawyer.

In that case, the defense hired a lawyer who held himself out as a nationally renowned expert in legal ethics. The defense expert opined that the lawyer did nothing wrong and it was appropriate for the lawyer to hide his mistake from his own client. Had that case gone to trial, he too would have bragged to the jury about his expertise in ethics in order to bolster his credibility.

Unfortunately, it seems like people who hold themselves out as ethical giants often turn out to be ethically challenged. They believe that with such lofty credentials they can sell anything to a jury even if what they are selling is bad legal or medical practice.

You can make a very good living being an expert in a malpractice suit. The insurance industry not only pays very handsomely for doctors to defend other doctors, but some insurance companies actually give doctors discounts on their insurance premiums if they will testify in favor of the doctor defendant in a malpractice suit.

Certainly, I am not suggesting that every single ethicist is unethical. I’m just saying don’t let titles fool you. Judge the person; not the title.