Articles Posted in Discovery

The New York Times has a good article today on Independent Medical Examination doctors, including a doctor referred to by New York injury lawyers as “Doctor Says-No.” We have several IME doctors in Maryland that must be related to him because they have the same last name.

The New York Times would not have written this story if it did not have examples of patients possessing the great weapon of the modern age: “I’ve got it on tape.” The article has examples of doctors who told the patient one thing in the evaluation – which the patient’s taped with their phones – and put the opposite conclusion in the report.

In Maryland, our lawyers are seeing a recent wave of IME doctors replacing the old guard of discredited doctors that juries stopped believing long ago. Below are a few tools to fight for your clients to get fair defense medical exams.

My colleague John Bratt is in the middle of a battle in a Montgomery County case where the expert is refusing to meet the same conditions imposed against this same expert by a judge in another case we had with him in Montgomery County. In another accident case, my colleague Rod Gaston has with the same doctor, they ordered the doctor to produce his financial records. Bizarrely, the insurance company withdrew the doctor, but he still filed an interlocutory appeal. I’m looking forward to finding out who has been paying his legal fees for all of this. My bet: the insurance company.

(Note: I have fixed the New York Times link, as requested. Thanks to all for bringing it to my attention.) Continue reading

One-hundred percent of our law firm’s practice is personal injury cases. We do not and will not take any defense cases even if we believe in the defendant’s case. Yet, last year I found myself on the other side of the coin as a defense expert. I served as a legal malpractice expert for a local defense firm on behalf of a plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer in Towson. I believe this lawyer did not breach the standard of care according to his version of the facts (and, parenthetically; I believe the most logical version of the facts). In this case, under the Plaintiff’s version of the case, the lawyer committed legal malpractice.

While I did not have the slightest trepidation about taking this case or the expert opinions I expressed, it was an odd experience to be back on the defense side for the first time in over six years. Regrettably, from an experience standpoint, the case settled before they deposed me. It would have been an educational experience because the legal malpractice lawyer who would have deposed me is a skilled and well-prepared lawyer, who would have been effective in challenging my opinions. Taking a unique role in a case changes your perspective, and I think helps you think more creatively about your cases. (Similarly, I have been a law professor for over 10 years. It would interest to be a student again after all the exams I have graded over the years. I think being a professor would make me a better student.)

Believe me, I am all in favor of plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers suing other personal injury lawyers when one of us has breached the standard of care. The whole idea of lawyers “sticking together” is both absurd and wrong. Our lawyers handle legal malpractice cases that involved a catastrophic personal injury case. But I also think there is an obligation to come forward and testify on behalf of a fellow personal injury lawyer if you believe the lawyer has not breached the standard of care and committed legal malpractice.

Last week, a well-respected defense lawyer told one of our lawyers they possessed the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association’s “Handbook,” which spells out the terms for a defense requested medical examination. This “Handbook” has made its way into a Motion to Compel a Physical Examination, specifically including this “MTLA Handbook” as an exhibit to the motion. By this inclusion, I assume this is an authoritative source of legal guidance for the court on this discovery matter.

Now back to reality. Maryland Trial Lawyers Association does not have a “Handbook” on defense medical exams. Instead, it is just a copy of the link from our website setting forth our suggested conditions for a defense medical exam. Which we don’t even use anymore!

I think it is funny that this is being represented as some guide to fighting medical exams. I am glad people are using the Maryland Personal Injury Lawyer Help Center. My partner told me last week that a defense lawyer she spoke to said they often get motions from other lawyers copying our sample motions. The lawyer said they call them “Miller & Zois” motions.

We are handling a red light/green light auto accident case that occurred in Towson, Maryland a few years ago that resulted in substantial permanent injuries to our client. Trial is a few months away. The insurance company for the Defendant is the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund (MAIF). Their attorneys recently moved to bifurcate the trial into two separate trials for liability and damages.

The Defendant’s attorneys would not seem to benefit if the case is bifurcated. Their concerns–the cost and effort of the liability case–is of no consequence to their client. So, practically, why was this motion filed?

If the case is bifurcated, the chance of a bad faith claim against MAIF evaporates; it would offer its $100,000 (a large policy for MAIF, parenthetically) policy limit in the event Plaintiff prevailed on liability because, as Defendant’s motion tacitly concedes, this case’s value exceeds MAIF’s coverage. While bifurcation would be a loss for Plaintiff, it would also be a loss for the insured Defendant who will lose any leverage that he has to encourage MAIF to settle or any claim he has against them for bad faith should they not make reasonable efforts to settle. Should the case be bifurcated and Plaintiff prevails on liability, Plaintiff will proceed on with the damages trial that will probably result in an excess verdict. This would leave MAIF in fine shape, fully insulated from a bad faith claim and protected from allegations it failed to properly defend their insured by, for example, having a defense medical examination performed on the Plaintiff. The defendant would be left holding the bag.

Goal number one when your client is giving a deposition is to do no harm.

The greatest harm your client can do in almost any personal injury case in his/her deposition is to get caught in a lie. Clients are most prone to “lie” about prior car accidents because they genuinely do not remember them. But a smart insurance company lawyer may turn an innocent failure to recall into a litmus test on the client’s credibility. As much as we as personal injury lawyers like to make the cases about ourselves – particularly when we get a great verdict, we all do it – the importance of our credibility/likability is a distant second to the importance to that of our client.

How can you solve the problem? Obviously, a good attorney spends time before the deposition discussing the issue with the client, explaining in very direct terms that prior medical history or claims history will be uncovered by any competent defense attorney or adjuster with access to a computer and/or the medical records. But, again, in some circumstances, the client may not remember whether they were injured on the job or made a claim for a car accident in which it involved them.

One of the most tedious chores accident attorneys in Maryland must perform is the collection of medical records in personal injury cases. How much can health care providers charge Maryland lawyers for copying the medical records? The brief answer: a lot. The Maryland Health-General Annotated Code §4-304 sets for the maximum charges:

  • $19.70 as a “preparation fee”
  • $0.65 for each page

A few days ago, I wrote about a judge’s article entitled Alice in Discovery Land (A Practical Guide to Recurrent Discovery Problems) that appeared years ago in Maryland Litigator, quoting Judge Smith’s comment about the oxymoronic phrase independent medical exam.

Counsel on both sides of the aisle have their own unique problems. One of the enormous problems the insurance companies have is getting credible medical experts to testify at trial. They are in a catch-22: they need doctors who regularly testify because of the volume of cases they have, but doctors who will have spent much of their practice testifying for insurance companies have little credibility. As a result, most of their experts are deeply wedded to the insurance companies, a fact rarely lost on jurors.

When the defense lawyer asks for an IME, we send out a list of conditions before agreeing to the exam. We also subpoena the doctor’s records. In most cases, the doctor refused to respond to the subpoena because they do not want to reveal the extent to which they are wedded to litigation related work and, specifically, to the insurance companies. The defendant’s lawyer is forced to withdraw the expert.

I had the opportunity last night to read an article written by Maryland Circuit Court Judge Thomas P. Smith entitled “Alice in Discovery Land (A Practical Guide to Recurrent Discovery Problems)” that appeared years ago in Maryland Litigator, a periodical which I believe no longer exists.

Reading his article reminds me that an article like this allows a lawyer to be included in the thoughts of a judge in the same way a focus group provides a lens for a personal injury lawyer to a potential jury. Both are engaged in thought processes that a lawyer thinks he or she can decipher, but it is often more difficult than they realize. Because we cannot hire a focus group of judges each time you file an important motion, the next best thing an attorney can do is read whatever you can find by practicing judges on discovery issues to get a better insight into their thinking.

What I found of particular interest is Judge Smith’s thoughts on Independent Medical Exams, “Of all the oxymorons in the world, an Independent Medical Examination occupies first place by thousands of leagues. There is nothing independent about the process; it is hardly undertaken for any medical purpose and all too often resembles an inquisition rather than an examination.”

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