No one gets all that excited about a $150,000 medical malpractice settlement. To say it is modest is an understatement, but sometimes such resolutions are special ones. This case involved a situation where another lawyer had originally filed a claim, but not done much with it. The VA denied the claim and the lawyer dropped the client who then came to us.
The case involved a veteran who died of liver cancer. Had the VA primary care provider appreciated some subtle abnormalities in the blood work, the cancer might have been detected in time for successful treatment. As it was, the cancer was not diagnosed until the laboratory studies were far beyond subtle. Even if it had been diagnosed earlier, the patient still faced a tough row, but the doctor’s negligence had clearly denied him whatever shot he had.
We took the case and got a supportive expert review. We requested reconsideration of the claim. Then it disappeared into the VA legal apparatus.
The veteran’s son was a very patient client. We explained that cases on reconsideration move slowly. He was very understanding. We bugged the VA lawyer who agreed to move the case to the top of her pile of cases. This was a pleasant surprise as many of the lawyers with whom we deal simply won’t budge.
The VA lawyer interviewed the client by telephone. Two things were noteworthy about that encounter. First, the VA lawyer was not only respectful, but she was downright kind. While most VA lawyers are certainly decent enough in these interviews, this was a step beyond. Second, the client was completely honest even about information that was not wholly helpful. For example, his brother (the other beneficiary of the veteran’s estate) had been out of touch with his family for many years. There was no close relationship there which impacted our damages.
The VA lawyer and I talked frankly. She told me that the case was not worth a huge amount of money because the underlying disease was bad (we knew that) and one of the children had had little real relationship with the father (knew that too). Finally, an offer was made, and we got the case resolved for $150,000.
We then had to deal with the issue of the missing brother. Obviously, I couldn’t get into a dispute between the two of them so I had some trepidation. I talked with both brothers and told them they would either have to agree to a split or we would have to look at a state court doing so. I then held my breath. The same day my client called back and said he offered 50%. This was the son who had taken care of his father for years and through his final illness. When he told me, his simple generosity almost made me cry. I was very touched.
Obviously, the settlement was not a big one, but for us it was very reaffirming. We got a small measure of justice for the client, who was very appreciative and directly expressed his gratitude. The VA lawyer not only did her job, she did it with utmost fairness and compassion. The example of the brother sharing the proceeds reminded us of the importance of generosity. Maybe the settlement was not rich in dollars, but there was a wealth of important lessons for all of us.