Pennsylvania is on center stage in the national political arena with the upcoming selection of our United States Senator. As a law student I remember a very wise professor telling us that, "He who sets the issue, wins!" In other words, if the decision maker accepts your version of the issue, you win. Twenty years ago this was not a political statement. It was a frame of reference from which you took a position to advocate on behalf of your client.
Santorum's position from his web site is this, "Another sharp contrast between Senator Santorum and Bobby Casey, Jr. is on the issue of medical liability reform. Senator Santorum has a strong record of working to make health care more accessible and affordable, while trial lawyer Bobby Casey has a strong record of being driven by his trial lawyer buddies."
Those of us who have the privilege to represent injured people have clearly not "set the issue". What is the issue that trial lawyers advocate? Some like to believe that we fight for the "little guy" or wear the "white hat". If the issue is framed as access to the court room and a trial lawyer versus access to healthcare and a doctor, it is inevitable that our efforts will fail. Among the reasons for this is the simple fact that many people believe they will never need a trial lawyer. However, who among us thinks they will never need a doctor?
When I look at my practice over the past several years, I clearly see how successful this campaign has been. How many injured children, disabled and elderly people have we been unable to represent, based solely upon a damages analysis? Despite not recovering from their injuries, unfortunately, these individuals were not gainfully employed, (no lost wages), did not survive long enough to accumulate huge medical bills (no past medical expenses), or the injuries were of such a nature that medical care could not correct the problem (no future medical expenses). The sad reality is that these cases are financial suicide because of the likelihood that the costs will outweigh the recovery. What happened to fighting for the "little guy?"
The powerful insurance lobby has devised and executed a comprehensive campaign whose primary objective is to eliminate corporate and individual defendant responsibility. This goal is to alter beyond recognition, through the political process and media, our entire judicial system. First they limit responsibility, second they limit liability and finally they limit the potential damages. The political process and the legislature are primarily responsible for the changes that have occurred. Who else but the insurance industry is the direct beneficiary of this campaign? Does anyone really believe that the insurance industry intends to pass on the benefits (profits) in a way that will improve access to or the quality of health care?
We need to change our focus. Tell me what you are for, not what you are against. It sounds so simple but, if you think about it, it is one of the most empowering statements. Why? The statement that you are against something really requires no commitment, knowledge, energy or problem solving skills. Tell me what you are for and then I want to know how you intend to achieve it.
I do not pretend to know how to change the national focus and set the issues. I do, however, refuse to end on such a frustrating note. I would like to draw your attention to a road map that can help us as trial lawyers to clarify our purpose and frame our own issues one day at a time.
The road map comes from a book entitled The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz. When I read it I thought the message would be a great one for lawyers who want to set the issue and win. Its power is in the simple fact that we all can aim towards what this book suggests. These are the Four Agreements to help us set the issues and advocate better for our clients:
First, Be impeccable with your word. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Your integrity is critical to your ability to successfully advocate for those who can not do it on their own.
Second, Don't take it personally. We are all too busy and concerned with our own lives to be planning someone else's demise. Even if the actions of someone are meant to be taken personally, transcend the insult, otherwise it will only weaken you and you need all the power and stamina that you can muster to do your best for your clients.
Third, Don't make assumptions. Have the courage to ask questions. Ask your clients what they expect from your representation. You may find out that what they want is something that you can never deliver. The sooner you know that, the better it will be for you and your clients.
Fourth, Always do your best. Sometimes your best efforts will be successful and other days you may just want to put your head in the oven!
With our Main office located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (PA), we are happy to evaluate medical malpractice cases from all of Western Pennsylvania including Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Sharon, New Castle, Butler, Beaver, Cranberry Township, Kittanning, Washington, Indiana, New Kensington, Monroeville, Murrysville, Latrobe and throughout Allegheny County, Westmoreland County, Butler County, Beaver County, Mercer County, Fayette County, Lawrence County, Armstrong County, Washington County, Cambria County, and Indiana County.