What if there was a non-profit organization, comprised of a few lawyers, nurses, paralegals, patient advocates, investigators and paid interns, which specialized in performing the steps in the pre-trial process and offered those services to the elderly and families with an annual income of less than $50,000 a year either pro bono or on a sliding scale based on ability to pay?
A non-profit National Patient Harm Legal Advocacy Group would offer the following services to clients and malpractice plaintiff attorneys pro bono:
1. client intake interviews - the first avenue of complaint for victims
2. investigators to look into claimant allegations
3. a team of physicians to evaluate the evidence provided by the investigators
4 a legal team of young or retired lawyers who would determine the merits of the case and advise claimants if they should drop their claim; consider using a negotiator to work towards an out of court settlement; or consider taking the case to trial. Members of this team would act as either liaisons with outside trial attorneys; be able to second chair; or if no other firm offers to accept the case, handle the trial.
5. A team of experienced legal negotiators.
6. And of course administrative staff.
This is a model for a tiered process in which all claimants would at least have their complaint heard and investigated. Many claimants would likely be willing to work with a negotiator and arrive at an out of court settlement. The majority of patient harm victims are simply seeking acknowledgement of the harm, an apology, and to have steps taken to treat the harm that was inflicted. A small percentage of the claims would actually move to the litigation stage.
Here is an example of how this process would work.
A client calls and says that they or their loved on is the victim of patient harm. The person answering the phones ( a volunteer, intern or other staff member) listens to their story and then asks them a set of scripted questions. The case is assigned to a patient advocate who will be a liaison with the person for most of their relationship with the group. The advocate reviews the case and unless it seems, forgive me for saying this "completely fraudulent", assigns the case to an investigator. The investigators turn their findings back over to the advocate. If the investigators turn up absolutely nothing to support the claim, the advocate explains that to the client. If the investigators turn up a reasonable suspicion of negligence, the case is turned over to the medical review panel which submits their opinions. At this point if the case has any merit, it is turned over to the legal review team to research the laws, statutes and jurisdictional issues. The legal team may then suggest that the case be referred to the in-house arbitrators to negotiate a settlement or decide that the case warrants a trial.
The patient advocate works with the client through this whole process.