The Importance of the Relationship between Physicians and Attorneys
Every personal injury, wrongful death, or workers’ compensation case (on the job injury) begins with the event causing the injury or death and almost immediately the interface between the injured or deceased patient and medical professionals, be it first responders like paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
And, in the case of those injured who survive their injuries, the emergency room physicians and thereafter physician specialists who deal with the particular injury involved, such as orthopedic surgeons for bone and joint injuries (sometimes back injuries) and neurologists and neurosurgeons for back and other neurological injuries as well as general surgeons for internal organ and tissue injuries.
For burns, dermatologists may be involved, as well as other specialties such as oral and ophthalmological (eye) surgeons.
For the injured person who survives a car or truck wreck, an accident at work, or injury by any other means, such as harmful drugs, defective machinery or other injurious mechanism, recovery is, of course, of prime importance, as far as is possible.
But the injured person suffers not only physically and mentally, but also financially as medical bills mount, unpaid lost time from work accrues, and if the injured person is the sole wage earner of the family, savings quickly dwindle and bills go unpaid.
The personal injury attorney is then confronted with an injured and, hopefully, recovering client who is slowly, or sometimes not so slowly (depending on his or her financial obligations as a husband, wife or to children) financially suffering as well.
As the personal injury attorney investigates the facts of the case, consults needed experts in accident reconstruction or other fields of expertise, determines liability and pursues the case for the client, he or she is also dealing with the medical aspects of their client’s case.
In the beginning, as the client begins his or her recovery from their injuries, this is not so difficult, as time must pass while the client heals. However, as the client reaches a point of recovery where he or she can be discharged from medical care, cooperation, in the context of litigation, between the attorney and the treating physicians becomes of paramount importance as it is the physician who will determine, to a large extent, the amount of the monetary recovery obtained by the injury attorney for the injured client.
Of course, it is not the physician’s obligation to assist in obtaining a monetary award for the patient or client, but it is the obligation of the attending physicians to fairly and honestly state the facts of the patient’s treatment and the extent of their recovery.
They will also be asked, at some point during the litigation, of their opinion of the extent of the client’s physical impairment and whether that impairment is “to a reasonable medical certainty” to be permanent.
While this determination is not entirely subjective, is it, to a certain degree, a matter of the physician’s professional opinion and that opinion will have a significant effect on the monetary recovery of the client.
Some physicians are known to be rather liberal and sympathetic to their patients and other are known not to be. I once met a psychiatric neurologist who had no sympathy whatsoever for anyone suffering a traumatic injury and what one might call “post-traumatic syndrome” as he had treated soldiers returning from Vietnam and felt anyone could overcome anything.
Not the kind of doctor you want testifying for your client if you are claiming not only physical but also psychological injuries.
Which brings me to an important point…
If a client has an opportunity to consult me as their personal injury attorney I will recommend physicians in the appropriate fields of expertise. But not because I have the doctor “in my pocket” nor because I necessarily believe the doctor will bend over backwards to help the client.
I will recommend a certain physician because I am aware, by experience, that he or she is fully competent and will give a fair and honest opinion of the effects of the injury on my client.
It is, however, well known that some physicians are so conservative in their views and/or insurance company oriented that they must be avoided at all costs. All I have ever asked of a physician, a judge or a jury is fairness toward my client.
So, if at all possible, the injured client should get the opinion of his or her personal injury attorney on which physician to seek treatment from early in the case. Selection of a fair and honest physician is imperative and avoiding the overly conservative insurance defense oriented physician is likewise an imperative.