One doc’s memoir: litigation crisis as morality crisis

by Walter Olson on December 12, 2003

Last year it was reported that Dr. Kirk Kooyer, who had come to Mississippi to serve the poor, was leaving the state after being sued by a patient who later said she didn’t want to file charges against him but was talked into doing so by her lawyers (see Aug. 1, 2002; Dorothy L. Pennachio, “Why Dr. Kooyer Had To Move”, Medical Economics, Dec. 23, 2002). Now Kooyer has published a memoir/essay on the tort mess which really shouldn’t be missed, at this link. Brief excerpts follow:

“I watched as a litigation mentality crept into the Mississippi Delta, fueled by a favorable judicial environment. I have had to personally deal with the harassment of unmerited litigation along with its consequences to my family, my practice and, ultimately, my idealism. …

“[A] jury in Sharkey County, where I lived and practiced for eight years, awarded $10 million to the family of a man who had electrocuted himself by touching a pipe to a power line. As the treating physician in that case, as well as a resident of the county, I was interested in knowing what culpability the jury felt the defendant electric company had in the electrocution. One of the jurors told me, ‘Oh, we didn?t think the electrical company did anything wrong, but this way the children will be taken care of.’ …

“Perhaps no individual has suffered more [from the state's medical liability crisis] than Dr. John Lucas III from Greenwood, Miss. Dr. Lucas, a fourth-generation Mississippi physician, is a trauma surgeon who was instrumental in setting up Mississippi?s statewide trauma network to speed victims of trauma from rural areas to appropriate medical care. In the past year, Lucas has been forced to witness the dismantling of the trauma network because of declining numbers of trauma surgeons in Mississippi. Additionally, he has had to personally deal with three distracting medical malpractice lawsuits, which he considers frivolous. And this past spring, his oldest son sustained a critical head injury in an automobile accident near Greenville, Miss. Last year, Greenville had well-established neurosurgical services. This year the last neurosurgeon providing emergency services in Greenville left the state. After his accident, vital neurosurgical care was delayed while Dr. Lucas’ son was transported 100 miles to the University Medical Center in Jackson. Dr. Lucas, a well-respected surgeon who worked diligently to improve trauma care in his state, who was personally dragged into Mississippi?s lawsuit frenzy, helplessly watched his precious son linger in a coma for several weeks and die for lack of expedient medical care. …

“I don?t think we should be distracted from what is at the heart of our nation?s tort crisis: a crisis in personal morality. We were taught from an early age not to accuse falsely and not to take something that doesn?t belong to us. When litigation is pursued in cases where there has been no negligence and where there has been no injury, not only is tort law not fulfilled, but an important moral teaching is also forgotten.” (Kurt Kooyer, “New Crisis in the Mississippi Delta”, The Spark (Calvin College), Fall). In its next issue, the Calvin College magazine runs a response from an Emory law prof who finds it just fine and completely understandable that people should file lawsuits demanding large sums as a way of “seek[ing] answers” after sudden and unexplained medical catastrophes — which tends to confirm Kooyer’s last point, so far as we can see. (Paul J. Zwier II, “Another Look at a ‘New Crisis in the Mississippi Delta’”, Winter) (& see Dec. 17).

{ 2 comments }

1 GruntDoc 12.12.03 at 11:45 pm

“a crisis in personal morality”

Via Overlawyered comes this excellent article about MedMal. Calvin College – Spark – Fall 2003 It’s an excerpt from a book I’m going to have to get, Delta Doctor, by Dr. Peter Bolens. It’s too good for me to abstract, and when you read it, I’d ask that…

2 Rodent Regatta 12.20.03 at 4:54 am

If You Wonder Why

“It currently stands at 59 of the 100, according to today’s editorial in Investor’s Business Daily on legal reform (‘Any…

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