D.C. Medical Society officials are asking Washington doctors to create a $100,000 fund to fight "frivolous and unfounded" malpractice actions.
"We estimate that at least 500 physicians will join what will be an independent legal Resources Fund to sue lawyers and plaintiffs who file malpractice suits with no basis in fact," Dr. Raymond Scalettar, the society's president, said yesterday.
"We want the word to go out that the physicians of this community will no longer quietly accept these no-merit suits, which physicians must spend huge time, effort and money tocombat."
John Lewis Smith, the society's counsel, said about 100 malpractice claims are made against Washington's 2000 practicing physicians each year. He said about one-fourth of them become lawsuits though "many are without medical merit."
District doctors currently pay $3,000 in $11,000 a year in malpractice insurances premiums. Medical society officers said doctors used to pay no more than a fewthousand dollars a year at the most (in premiums)" not much more than a decade ago.
They said a general practitioner may pay $3,000 and a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon who does many delicate operations pays about $21,000. Scalettar said someone in between even an internist who specializes in gastroenterology and does some invasive diagnostic procedures pays $8,000 or $9,000."
In 1975 a Chicago x-ray specialist Dr. Leonard Berlin, counter-sued a former patient, her husband and two lawyers who had sued Berlin what they claimed was a faulty of diagnosis that led to permanent damage of an injured finger. Berlin maintained his diagnosis was a reasonable one and the treatment would have been the same in any case.
A jury last summer awarded Berlin $8,000. That verdict is being appealed.
But the counter-suit movement has become nationwide, and the number of malpractice suits dropped 50 per cent last year in Montana and 40 per cent in Chicago.
Late last year, a Montana orthopedist won a $109,000 judgment and there are 46 such counter-suits now pending in 16 states.
"What we're planning is a sperate corporation, not part of the medical society, though the mmedical society is fathering it," Scalettar explained.
We're talking about the legitimate malpractice claim. We're talking about the lawyer who flies though experts tell him he has no case and he has no evidence. He just hopes he can somehow get a settlement.
"But in the meantime the physicians must answer hundreds of interrogatories, lose vast amounts of time from their offices and go to great expense."
Scalettar is chairman of a steering committee for the new fund, which will name its own officers when incorporation is completed.
"But I'll certainly join," said Scalettar, an internist and a rheumatologist MALPRACTICE, From A1> - a specialist in internal medicines and diseases such as arthritis - who said he has never been sued.
"I look forward to joining," said Dr. Harvey Ammerman, the medical society's president-elect and a neurosurgeon who has been sued twice, he said, and won both cases by directed verdict.
The society's officers also urged the D.C. Council to adopt a new malpractice law the society suggested last year. It would create a mandatory review panel to examine every case and advise the court whether or not there was injurious negligence - and that advice could be cited as evidence, though the allegedly injured party still could sue.