It’s a bad joke

Columnist : Albert Paschall

What’s the difference between a dead skunk, a dead lawyer and a dead doctor in the middle of a Pennsylvania highway?
I’m not sure I understand the motive for lawyer jokes.  Why is the profession of defending truth, justice and the American way the butt of so many bad puns?  Maybe it’s in the way lawyers were created.  Legend holds that right after the Garden of Eden came crashing down Satan complained to God that he was getting all the blame for human failure.  “God,” Satan said, “these creatures you made wreak havoc.  They fight, get arrested and cheat each other and I get all the blame!  It’s not fair and you’ve got to do something!”  So to be fair to the Devil, God created lawyers.
You never hear the same jokes about doctors.  In Pennsylvania doctors make about what lawyers make and we go to doctors when we have troubles just like we do with lawyers.  Today just like lawyers physicians work on a contingency fee.  HMO’s will pay them every month when we’re alive and stop the checks when we die.  If we’re really in bad shape our local doctor will give us an HMO referral to a big time doctor and then the HMO will pick up the whole tab.  After all they want to keep us alive so that the HMO money keeps coming.
Same thing with lawyers working on contingency fees.  If the lawyer keeps your malpractice suit alive and scores big dollars for you in a jury trial its time to cash in on a big fee.  Without a contingency fee when we’re in bad shape from some doctor’s mistake we couldn’t afford a big time lawyer to make everything all right.
The difference is that trial lawyers don’t enjoy nearly the success rate that doctors do.  If doctors worked as well as lawyers did half of us would probably be dead.  Last year trial lawyers in the state only won about 45% of the cases that they got into court but when they won, they won big. Pennsylvania ranks sixth among states with the percentage of malpractice awards in excess of $1 million.  As for the other half of the cases the trial lawyers probably didn’t lose.  Its likely that most of them were settled out of court with the aggravated party, and their lawyer, collecting from the doctors’ insurance companies.
Somebody’s got to pay, so it’s the doctors for now.  The first of this year the premiums that doctors pay in Pennsylvania for malpractice insurance increased anywhere from 21% to 60%.  In the southeast, home of the infamous Philadelphia lawyer, some rates increased by a painful 75%.  Driven by the failure of the state’s general assembly to enact reasonable laws that protect us from incompetence while protecting us from trial lawyers, physicians are retiring or leaving the state in record numbers.  Targeted specialties: obstetricians, pediatricians and neurologists, are likely to be the first to go.
The technical term for a reasonable medical malpractice law is called tort reform.  Tort reform means that we can still sue truly negligent doctors for our damages and collect for legitimate pain and suffering.  But we need a common sense standard that requires expert witnesses to really practice medicine not just drop in from some 800 number dial a witness pool.  Effective change demands that we treat each case individually with full disclosure of any money that’s been paid to the injured party by any other insurance companies involved in the case.
Historically the power of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Political Action Committee has turned any efforts in the state to cure what ails the malpractice system into a bad joke.  This time though it’s not just a pain in the business community’s pocket book.  Untreated the medical malpractice crisis threatens all of us.  If Harrisburg doesn’t act someday soon those already at high risk of deficient medical care, poor people in rural and urban areas, will be the first to feel the pain and then the cost will get passed on to all of us.
You’ll have to decide for yourself about the skunk and the lawyer, though one probably has skid marks in front.  The doctor never got hit.  He moved out of Pennsylvania before the accident happened.