When Your Lawyer Refers You to a Doctor

Lee S. Goldsmith, M.D., LLB

In the course of my practice, I have referred only two patients to physicians for treatment. The first was a nine-year-old child. He had received a vaccination into his shoulder that was done improperly so that the injected material went into a nerve, damaging the nerve. I referred him to a physician at Yale who operated, removed a section of the humerus bone, removed the damaged portion of the nerve, and successfully reattached the two healthy ends, resulting in a 100% return of nerve function. But the arm was about an inch shorter than the other. Without the surgery, the arm would have been nearly useless. Without the surgery, there would have been a huge malpractice suit, but with the surgery there was a functioning child and a smaller settlement. The parents were happy and the child a happier adult.

The second time I referred a client to a physician was after an elbow operation on an adult male. The surgery had pinched nerve in his elbow, paralyzing his hand. I referred this gentleman to an orthopedic surgeon who released the nerve, resulting in a total return of function.

Two successes.

The only other times I refer a clients to a physicians is to give me a report, setting a baseline for the degree and extent of the injuries. They are not referred for treatment The report then enables me to enter into realistic negotiations with full knowledge of my clients’ injuries. Better settlements result.

What we will not do is refer a client for “treatment” with the purpose of “establishing sufficient injuries” to allow us to bring suit. This practice is, unfortunately, common amongst attorneys who handle cases involving automobile accidents and slip and fall injuries. If the referral is to make sure that any injuries that a client has are noted and treated, that would be an appropriate referral. The actual injuries would be treated and substantiated for the purposes of the litigation. Treatment is primary and litigation is secondary.

In those instances, the positive side is that true injuries can be substantiated and the client will get a just recovery.

The negative side is that the client is taken advantage of. An auto insurance policy limits the amount to be spent on medical expenses. If the medical expenses are increased to exceed the funds available under the auto insurance policy, then the client/patient is encouraged to sign liens so that the additional expenses come out of the settlement. That diminishes the recovery to the client as the policies in the accidents are often limited, and exposes the client to additional medical treatment where medical malpractice may occur.

Medical malpractice suits are difficult, time-consuming and costly.

The client who is looked at by the attorney and physicians not as a person whose rights should be protected and injuries cared for and treated but as a commodity.

If your attorney wants to refer you to a physician—ask WHY?