After weeks of foot dragging negotiations and an apparently painful mediation, my partner, Ted McFadden, settled a case we brought against the VA in Durham, NC. The settlement amount was not big, a little over $200,000. This case had turned into a quagmire. Because the matter went on so long, the litigation costs were huge and I doubt our hourly rates will be up to Bernie Sanders’ proposed minimum wage. It’s easy to look at this as a loss or a mistake, but I think that is being too narrow.
The reality is that an older veteran was misdiagnosed and the care he received was atrocious. He died a miserable death. And his suffering was needless. That is not our “spin.” That is the reality of the care he received.
The VA outright denied the claim at the administrative phase. Had they offered the family $200,000 administratively we likely would have advised acceptance. So what were we to do when the VA just blew off this family? Maybe we should have just said “too bad, litigation is just not cost effective.” I suppose that might have been prudent, but I am not sure it would have been right - either with regard to this client or our other clients. I think there is much to be said for calling out the VA (or any agency) when it takes these sort of abusive positions. “Abusive” is a deliberate word choice on my part. Bear in mind the VA should assume the obligation to “do right” by the veterans it supposedly serves. It did not do so here and this was not an isolated event.
We are a business and I am not ashamed to say we strive to be a profitable one. We are certainly not a charity and we cannot afford too many quixotic adventures. But we always have to remind ourselves that our clients are also real people and we owe them a duty. Fulfilling that duty is not always easy and sometimes it is not really justified under any reasonable cost-benefit analysis. Still, there are times we just have to do the right thing, painful though it can be.
My colleagues did a good job on this case. After a long time it finally reached the right conclusion. Thank you. I am very proud of them.