In early 2009, a thirty-eight year old woman contacted the Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) with a potential medical malpractice matter. A normally routine intramuscular shoulder injection became a staph infection requiring hospitalization and two surgeries because medical personnel failed to properly sterilize the injection needle and the table on which the medical instruments were placed.
While seemingly a straight forward case, it took five and a half years and thousands of hours of work for LRIS Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury attorney Michael Mandel to successfully argue his case before an Alameda County jury. The jury awarded the client $150,000 in non-economic damages and $30,000 for her surgical scar.
Medical malpractice cases are notoriously hard for attorneys to pursue. The expense of gathering records, assessing economic and emotional damage, and hiring expert witnesses can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. These out of pocket expenses often come before depositions have been taken and a full picture of the case has been painted. The high expenses and uncertainty of case outcomes prevent many potential claimants from finding competent legal representation. According to Mandel, “Alternative dispute resolution programs have had a huge impact on how cases are resolved. The proliferation of mediation services is a new beginning to help litigants realize the benefits of attempting an early resolution of disputes.”
When determining whether to represent a client with a medical malpractice case, Mandel must weigh the very significant obstacles not frequently encountered in other areas of tort law; not the least of which is the Medical Injury Compensation Act (MICRA) which caps the non-economic damages a plaintiff is entitled to at $250,000 and limits the attorney’s fees. MICRA was signed into law by then Governor Jerry Brown in 1975. This November, California voters will have the opportunity to adjust the MICRA cap for inflation through Proposition 46. Ironically, if Proposition 46 passes, it will again be Governor Brown signing the legislation.
In his thirty-eight years as an attorney Mandel has modified his practice to adapt to changes in the legal field, including the incorporation of technology in the courtroom. Cell phones, emails, and e-filing allow for a 24/7 work cycle that, in Mandel’s view, “has placed stressors on all of us with the net effect on our lives not really appreciated. Jurors now expect PowerPoint presentations and the use of animation to prove a case. We lose sight of the need to verbally communicate, make eye contact, and simply explain to jurors what our cases are about.”
As for why, despite all the obstacles, Mandel continues to accept case referrals for medical malpractice, “I have been a member of the LRIS for in excess of 35 years. All I can say is it is extremely rewarding to assist my LRIS clients who have been injured due to no fault of their own.”
Learn more: Please contact Yvonne Ng, LRIS Membership Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to become a member of the San Francisco or Marin panels of BASF’s LRIS. For more information on BASF’s Alternative Dispute Resolution programs, including Mediation Services, please contact Marilyn King, ADR Programs Manager at email@example.com.