It was only two days after he returned from the hospital. His wife died just two days ago.
He believed that the hospital and the doctors who worked there violated the basic standards of medical care. He believed that the doctors were careless and caused his wife's death.
Here he is now, two days after his wife has died and he gets something in the mail that infuriates him.
It was a celebratory and congratulatory letter. It talked about how great the hospital was and all the achievements it has obtained over the many years it was in existence in New York City.
No doubt, this hospital was well recognized throughout the world. This hospital was a world leader in medical developments.
This multipage letter talked about what great accomplishments the doctors and hospital staff had reached.
It talked about the wonderful hospital staff. The letter talked about how great it was to be receiving medical care and treatment at one of the worlds leading medical institutions. It also talked about the importance of raising money to continue this trend of innovative medical care designed to help patients just like his wife.
The people at the hospital who sent this fund-raising letter clearly had no idea that his wife had died. The insensitive and unknowing fund-raising people who sent this letter had no clue that this gentleman's wife died as a direct result of carelessness and medical malpractice at their hospital.
When he read this letter, he was furious. He wanted to scream. He wanted to yell. He wanted to knock some sense into these morons who sent him this letter.
That prompted an immediate call to me. As he began to tell me what had happened, I told him to stop for a moment and to let me finish the story.
He couldn't understand how I knew that this hospital had just sent this letter to a family member asking to donate money to the hospital's fundraising unit after such a tragedy had just occurred.
I then shared with him a brief story about how I knew all this.
It's wasn't the first instance where a client of mine was treated at this hospital and received this type of letter. In fact, the fundraising unit of this hospital had been doing this for many years. I was told that they were quite successful in raising money for the hospital this way.
“How could they not realize that they just killed a patient and then a few days later sent out a letter asking the patient and their family to give great sums of money and support to funding the hospital?”
The reality is that the fund-raising arm of the hospital had no clue whatsoever what went on in the treatment side. There was no communication whatsoever between the two units of the hospital.
Every few days, the patients who were “discharged” by the hospital were put on a list that was sent to the fund-raising unit.
The fund-raising division then sent out prepared form letters with the patient's name on it.
For a patient who received great care with an excellent outcome, that would be the ideal patient this fund-raising letter would target. That type of patient would be much more inclined to give money to the hospital than someone who had a bad outcome and someone who received improper medical care as a result of a doctor's carelessness.
Even though I had personally alerted the fund-raising unit of this hospital to this unfortunate reality on multiple occasions, it seemed that they either didn't care or ignored the fact that they were infuriating surviving family members and injured victims.
From the patient's perspective or the surviving family member's perspective it shows a significant level of insensitivity.
From the fund-raising unit perspective, they would argue that they have no way to know what happened with the patient. They are not privy to the medical care the patient received nor discuss with any of the doctors involved what occurred to the patient.
Some functionary or clerk in this unit simply processes the list and sends out these batch form letters with the hope and expectation that a certain percentage of them will be returned with checks payable to the hospital. They must not give much thought to the small percentage of patients who are unhappy and totally dissatisfied with the care and treatment they received at the hospital.
My client's phone call prompted me to send an immediate letter to the hospital demanding that they remove my client's name from their fundraising list. That prompted an apology from the hospital. However, the damage had already been done.
The doctors who worked for the hospital had taken his wife's life. They were careless. They violated the basic standards of medical care. And his life's partner was gone forever. This world renowned hospital did not live up to perceived expectations. They didn't live up to their own expectations. To top it off, the hospital then sent this fund-raising letter asking for donations to help this great hospital and hospital staff do wonderful things for patients, simply put my client over the top.
What shame. What stupidity.
When we started the lawsuit by filing documents known as a summons and complaint, the defense replied to our allegations by denying that they were in any way responsible for his wife's injuries and ultimate death.
From a legal standpoint this is a simple knee-jerk reaction where the defense routinely denies all of our allegations. However, looking at it from my client's point of view, this was simply another instance where the people who were clearly responsible for his wife's death, refused to accept responsibility and acknowledge that they did anything wrong.
This further justified to him why it was so important to continue his quest seeking compensation for his wife's untimely death.
From my client's viewpoint, the hospital, the doctors and now the defense attorney were insensitive and clearly didn't understand what they had done to cause or contribute to his wife's death.
During the lawsuit, I had an opportunity to question the different doctors who were involved with his wife's care. This is known as depositions. I questioned an entire series of doctors from the hospital. They ALL refused to acknowledge that they did anything wrong. Most of them could not explain why her condition deteriorated following surgery.
Even when presented with the autopsy results and the operative reports from surgery done days later, these physicians were unwilling to acknowledge that they departed from good and accepted medical care.
Even when I asked hypothetical questions that showcased what we believed the facts were, these doctors fought tooth and nail and again refused to acknowledge that there was any violation from the basic standard of medical care.
Our medical experts showed me, page by page, exactly where these doctors went wrong. Our medical experts determined that the surgeons who operated on her, were in fact careless and that carelessness was a cause of her untimely death.
As this case proceeded forward, the defense maintained the position that they did nothing wrong. Shortly before trial I received a call from the defense asking if we would be interested in trying to mediate this case and work out a negotiated settlement. I agreed to a mediation but was not hopeful that we could resolve this without going to trial.
At mediation, both sides appear before an experienced attorney who has experience trying to negotiate settlements in medical malpractice cases like these. Each side must pay a fee to the mediator for their time to sit and listen and try and offer solutions. Up until this point, the defense had refused to offer a single dime. Their position was “No pay.”
Just because the defense suggested that we try and mediate the case did not in any way imply that the hospital would acknowledge what they did or even attempt to offer a significant amount of compensation. It was simply an invitation to sit down and begin talking.
I agreed to the mediation since it is often helpful to learn what the defense's position is during this type of negotiating session. I can often glean very useful and important information about their strategy during this type of informal negotiating discussion.
By the way, you should know that this takes place in the mediator's office and not in court.
On the appointed day, both sides arrived for the mediation.
My client was not present but was available by phone. I needed to be able to reach him to let him know what type of offer if any was being made. In this instance, I did not want him in the room listening to the defense's argument since I'm new that he would simply get more upset when he heard what the defense's position would be and what it would be like at trial if this mediation were not successful.
He would dig his heels in and refuse to accept any offer that was made.
At the very beginning of a mediation, each side has an opportunity to put forth their best position to make opening remarks. That's exactly what I did. I spent the first 15 minutes outlining to the mediator exactly why the hospital and the doctors violated the basic standards of medical care and why their carelessness caused and contributed to my client's death.
As expected, the defense, in their opening remarks, put forth their best defense and highlighted to me the key strategies they would be using at trial if we were unsuccessful during our mediation session.
This mediation lasted for hours.
After opening remarks were made, the mediator then met with each side individually in an effort to truly understand the strengths and weaknesses of our respective positions. The mediator gets a better sense of our negotiating strategies and where we need to be in order to try and come to a successful settlement.
Throughout the course of the morning it became quickly obvious that the defendants wanted to settle this matter in a bad way.
That would be bad for business and bad for their fundraising efforts.
They did not want others to recognize that they had made significant errors in treating this patient. They finally recognized, after years of litigation, that the treatment of this particular patient was not ideal and resulted in a tragic and unfortunate outcome.
They recognized that their own medical experts could not support the defense that everything was done correctly. Once that information came to light, then it was merely a question of trying to put a value on what the damages were worth in this particular case.
Even though the defense ultimately acknowledged that they violated the basic standards of care, they then fought vigorously to try and limit the amount of money they would have to pay in order to compensate my client for his wife's death.
Their goal is to try and limit the amount of money they are required to pay out to compensate the injured victim and their family. Our agenda on the other hand is to maximize the value, without exaggerating, of the injuries and losses that the victims have suffered.
At the end of this hard-fought mediation, being held with the most senior trial partners of the best defense law firms in New York City, I was able to report back to my client that we had successfully resolved his case. He had previously given me permission and authority to settle this case based upon the parameters we discussed before going into this mediation.
I was pleased to report to him that the defense agreed to pay significantly more than the amount we had originally agreed to prior to the mediation going forward.
For my client who received that original fundraising letter two days after his wife had died, he was now at peace with himself because the hospital finally acknowledged not only that they were wrong to send the fund-raising letter but they were wrong in treating his wife in a way that was inconsistent with good and accepted medical practice.
He was at peace with himself.
If you receive a fund-raising letter from the hospital following medical care and treatment that you believe was done improperly, keep this story in mind as your blood begins to boil and you feel that outrage wondering how could they be so stupid?