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Costly Mistakes

by Erica Bauwens
Medical malpractice cases are lengthy, expensive and may be on the rise.

It’s anyone’s worst nightmare: a simple medical procedure gone horribly wrong. One ignored symptom or overlooked misstep from a trusted expert can lead to a lifetime of pain, anguish and unanswered questions for a patient or their family.

Cathy, a Camden County resident who asked to withhold her last name, never expected to be involved in a medical malpractice case until she lost her father in 2003. After visiting the hospital for simple potassium and prostate treatment, the attending doctor incorrectly diagnosed the 79-year-old with high blood sugar. They discharged him with a prescription for Prandin without first monitoring his reaction to the drug. Just four days later, he was displaying what Cathy described as stroke-like symptoms at dinner with his family.

“We found out it was low blood sugar,” she says. “It turned out the blood sugar was so low it caused multiple organ failure. He lived two and a half weeks.”

Had the medication been administered in the hospital, he might still be alive today. The blame was thrown between the doctor and hospital, but the damage was done.

A Change in Treatment
From June 2010 to July 2011, there were 1,219 cases of medical malpractice in the state, according to the New Jersey Judiciary civil statistics. These coincided with the new government-issued health care reforms that have changed the way some medical experts handle their profession.

“As doctors are being squeezed by insurance agencies, what happens is there are more patients per hour, surgeries are being scheduled back to back, and from that, more mistakes are being made,” explains attorney Michael Berger. “It has become less of a privatized practice and that’s one of the problems.”

Berger has worked in malpractice law for 37 years, currently serving as a partner with the Haddonfield firm Andres & Berger, an award-winning practice specializing specifically in medical malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a published author on the topic, having written “New Jersey Injury and Malpractice Law” with his fellow partner, Kenneth Andres. In his experience, he has seen changes in health care, and watched his clients suffer the consequences. “I keep seeing the same mistakes made over and over again, year after year,” he says. “It’s depressing that more hasn’t been done to prevent medical errors.”

“I am convinced that medical negligence cases are typically the most complex and the most adversarial,” says Bruce Zamost, a medical malpractice partner with the 80-year-old statewide practice Pallettieri, Rabstein and Altman. “All medical malpractice cases are involved. … Resolving those issues in favor of the victim requires a tremendous amount of intellectual fortitude and tenacity.”

Taking Action
Malpractice resolutions also require time, patience and a financial dedication from the firm at hand. According to Berger, every doctor named in a lawsuit is required to submit a sworn affidavit, proving the facts provided are correct. A breast cancer survivor seeking reparations for a delayed diagnosis would require affidavits from professionals including, but not limited to, an expert breast surgeon, gynecologist, oncologist and breast pathologist before the client could even testify. “Expenses in such a case can easily exceed $50,000 in expert fees, even before trial,” says Berger.

Medical malpractice patients are already faced with an unexpected onslaught of bills and prescription costs, along with injuries that could put them out of work and without a source of income. After those costs, hiring a lawyer may not seem like a realistic option. “The economic downturn has meant that victims of medical negligence have even fewer options,” says Zamost. “The number of lawyers who have the resources and willingness to pursue medical malpractice cases is dwindling at an alarming rate. Many patients refrain from contacting a lawyer because they wrongly believe that they will incur legal fees.”

While some attorneys charge for these additional fees, Andres & Berger and Pallettieri, Rabstein & Altman pay those professional expenses, only expecting compensation from cases that they win.

Cathy stresses that, when preparing for a medical malpractice case, the person must be ready for a long and difficult road. Her father’s case took her and her family six years to close, and that was only after she was able to find the right attorney for her, which presents its own challenges.

“Sensitivity is so important in representing severely injured clients … especially because malpractice cases drag on for years,” says Berger. “Communication with our clients is one of the responsibilities of our representation.”

“I laugh when people say it’s so easy to sue. It’s a very long, arduous process; very painful,” says Cathy. “[But] it’s doable as long as you know you’re doing the right thing for your family. I was doing it for my father. I knew it’s what he wanted me to do. I also did it because, financially, it was hard on my mother. So I wanted to do something so her life would be better. I have no regrets at all.”

Legal Eagles
These firms have employed teams of top-notch attorneys designed tocater specifically to the needs of their clients.

Adinolfi & Goldstein, P.A.
Adinolfi and Goldstein, P.A. is a team of New Jersey family law attorneys and support staff focused on the timely, cost-effective resolution of serious family disputes. They consistently provide clear communication and a comprehensive explanation of client’s rights, options and responsibilities throughout the life of the case. Their partners have more than 100 years of combined experience and have assembled a highly qualified and skilled team of attorneys and staff to address even the most complex and urgent family matters.
(856) 428-8334

Andres & Berger
Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as Civil Trial Attorneys. Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocates. Practice limited to medical malpractice, serious personal injury and wrongful death cases.
(856) 795-1444

Becker Meisel, LLC
Richard C. Klein, Esquire, is a nationally recognized Family Law Attorney that handles a full range of legal services for individuals facing divorce or separation and custody. Visit our website.
Cherry Hill
(856) 779-0700

Charny, Charny & Karpousis P.A.
Led by Judy S. Charny, the Divorce and Family Law Group of Charny, Charny & Karpousis, P.A. is dedicated to providing high quality legal services. This team of eight female attorneys includes highly recognized leaders in the field with 60-plus years of experience and an unparalleled compassion for clients.
Mount Laurel
(856) 505-1700

Davis & Mendelson, LLC
Mediation provides separating/divorcing parties with cost-effective and child-centered ways to resolve differences. Parties focus on commonality of interests and needs, rather than ego-driven positions; they resolve issues without having to prevail against each other.
(856) 627-0100

Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig LLP
Recognized as one of the preeminent civil litigation law firms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the lawyers of Feldman Shepherd have established a track record of winning outstanding results in serious personal injury and class action litigation. In addition, many of the partners have been designated Super Lawyers, named among the best plaintiffs' lawyers by LawDragon, are members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and have been certified as Civil Trial Advocates by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.
Serving South Jersey

Fendrick & Morgan, LLC
The firm is dedicated to helping clients in the areas of estate planning, elder law, and estate administration. They combine in-depth knowledge with skillful, creative drafting to produce a customized plan for each client.
(856) 489-8388

LaVan Law
LaVan Law offers a unique blend of legal and business skills to companies doing business in New Jersey.
(856) 235-4079

Scott J. Levine, Esq.
Helping you prepare for all phases of divorce and custody with an aggressive and efficient approach.
Cherry Hill
(856) 482-1000

Musulin Law Firm, LLC
Christopher Musulin, Esquire, is a Family Law Attorney, as well as a Divorce Mediator and Arbitrator. He serves clients throughout South Jersey and will apprise you of your rights.
Mount Holly
(609) 267-0070

Pellettieri Rabstein & Altman
Since 1929, PR&A is a name that has become synonymous with the voice of victims. With 35 preeminent attorneys in its ranks, the firm has a distinguished heritage as the champion of citizens injured by professional malpractice, motor vehicle, premises accidents, product defects or sexual abuse.
Mount Holly
(609) 267-3390

Russell & Laughlin, PA
Russell & Laughlin, PA is a law firm dedicated to all family law matters.
Mount Laurel
(609) 398-1900

Michael J. Stein, Attorney-At-Law
A full service divorce and family law firm serving clients throughout southern New Jersey. The firm’s experience, personal attention and listening skills combine to meet your legal needs and the needs of your children.
Moorestown & Mount Holly
(856) 642-0400

Theiler & Mourtos
Theiler & Mourtos, L.L.C. is dedicated to the practice of matrimonial and family law matters. Their goal is to provide outstanding legal services tailored to each client’s individual needs.
(856) 797-8700

Underwood & Micklin, LLC
Serving all of New Jersey with offices in Cherry Hill, Vineland, Linwood & Newark. Evening appointments available.
Cherry Hill
(877) 580-2200

Joseph M. Weinberg & Associates
A prominent matrimonial attorney, with an "AV" rating by Super Lawyers, representing clients in South Jersey. He is currently accepting substantial and complex matrimonial, divorce and family matters.
(856) 795-9400

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 9 (December, 2011).
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