Interview with attorney Joanna Lazer, partner in Lazer & Hudziak law firm, medical attorney. He represents, among other things, parents of girls who died in the escape room of Koszalin.
Do you more often represent patients or doctors in disputes and legal proceedings?
I more often represent patients.
In your career, has there ever been a case where a doctor sued a patient?
No, but I can imagine it if a doctor, for example, demands compensation for infringement of personal rights, for example for writing an insulting review of him on the internet.
Patients who sue doctors or hospitals more often?
In our cases, the accused is more often the hospital, but the choice of who is prosecuted is part of the procedural strategy. We don’t make such a decision by default, because every case is different. In any case, there are a few factors to consider before going to court.
What about our legal awareness? Do we seek support when we feel hurt or do we prefer to do it ourselves? Or maybe we still don’t believe the patient has a chance to “win with the system”?
You can certainly win with the system, that is, with the hospital, but it is not an easy and fast way to get justice. You have to be patient and for that you have to realistically estimate the evidence and therefore the chances of winning. The legal awareness of patients is increasing every year. It sometimes happens that patients call already during their stay in the hospital if a certain situation bothers them. Today, the Internet is a wealth of knowledge in every field, and law and medicine are such fields through which the reader can believe that after reading online guides, he will be able to cope with himself. In my experience, the sooner a patient seeks legal advice, the better for him and the case. Hasty decisions at the beginning of the legal path are often difficult to resolve.
Can the patient count on real support from the Patient Ombudsman?
Naturally. Apart from the fact that we send requests for an explanatory procedure to the Patient Rights Ombudsman, which often ends with a finding that the patient’s rights have been violated by a doctor or hospital, there are also cases that we A civil judge has also sent a lawyer on behalf of the Patient Ombudsman, who shares our point of view and acts in the best interests of the patient.
The medical branch of law is special. You meet people whose lives have definitely been changed by medical malpractice. What was the problem that touched you the most?
I won’t point out one thing, but I’m always touched by those where the youngest are hot, especially children who have lost their chance at a normal life due to a birth defect. In such cases, the functioning of the whole family is turned upside down and leads to constant fear for the future of a sick child and the struggle for his health and finances for treatment.
What are the hardest things?
The ones that seem to be resolved before they get to us. It sometimes happens that clients turn to us for help as physicians – legal experts, who have already given an unfavorable judgment to the patient in the case. It is extremely difficult to turn the tide in such a case, as experts are very reluctant to change their mind, and usually the expert evidence is collected last, ie after all witnesses to the incident have been heard. It is even more difficult when the client comes to us with a decision to discontinue the procedure and the time limit for submitting a complaint against this decision is only seven days. During this time we must have time to read the files and find arguments in the case strong enough to undermine the redemption. That is why it is so important to go to a lawyer as soon as possible so that we can actively participate in the evidence procedure, ie when questioning witnesses and especially court experts.
Sometimes your clients’ stories end tragically with the death of a loved one. Please forgive the question directly, I don’t want it to sound like “appreciation” of life, but how is the amount of compensation estimated?
Relax. This is a very practical human question. “How much can I win?” – this is what patients ask during the first interview. And here you have to make a little digression. In the lawsuit we usually seek compensation, recourse and annuity. Compensation is the amount the patient has lost due to a medical error, such as lost income or the amount the patient must spend on corrective treatment. You just need to calculate it based on real losses or costs – table, addition, subtraction. On the other hand, compensation is an amount that is more difficult to estimate as it is intended to compensate the patient’s harm, ie pain and suffering, and this is a very individual matter and it is impossible to get a table. For example, a damaged finger will cause more damage to the pianist than to the driver. At “appreciation” we rely on experience in handling such cases. The third amount is the annuity. It’s less talked about, but it’s hugely important. For example, a child injured during childbirth may receive a pension of a dozen or even several tens of thousands of zlotys per month, when this is the cost of dealing with the consequences of the mistake. In cases that result in the death of the patient, the next of kin fight for compensation. If the parents’ only child dies, the amount of compensation for their death may be higher than if the parents had other children.
Can you detach yourself from your emotions in a courtroom? Do you have to respond to it later?
In the courtroom I am a professional, I have a specific task and that is what I focus on. It goes without saying that medical malpractice cases are specific, especially when it comes to the death of a child. Customers expect understanding, empathy and involvement. Both my partner and I like to interact with people, which helps a lot when dealing with such cases. It is certainly not a job for a lawyer who prefers to serve companies and interact with a corporate client. In my spare time I like to get very tired on the badminton court.
Are there clients who have claims against psychotherapists, psychologists or personal trainers?
Not. I’ve never had such a case.
I know that among your clients there are those who feel disadvantaged by… vets. What kind of cases are these?
They also treat medication errors. Unfortunately, these are usually cases where the animal did not survive the treatment. Most often, errors occur at the stage of diagnosis, resulting in the failure or initiation of a wrong therapy, and thus close to the tragic end. Such cases are becoming more and more common to us, as the animal becomes a family member, and its death due to the negligence of a veterinarian gives rise to the need to fight for justice. The cases concern both domestic animals (dogs and cats) and farm animals, such as horses. The market value of the animal affects the level of compensation, but the emotional loss is also subject to evaluation, which is obviously more difficult to quantify.
What case do you never accept?
I would not accept a case where, after analyzing the records, I would conclude that the patient is at high risk of losing the case and pursuing the case will only expose him to the cost of loss in court, to not to mention a great disappointment and bitterness at the unfavorable judgment. Not every case is suitable for trial. Not every case can be won. Before accepting a case, we always analyze it thoroughly, sometimes we use the help of medical professionals who work with us. When analyzing the case, we estimate the probabilities of trial and the probability of failure. If it certainly outweighs the odds, we advise against the customer going to court.
Where does such an interest in medicine actually come from in a lawyer?
I have been interested in medicine for as long as I can remember, long before I became a lawyer. After graduating, I seriously considered studying medicine, but the law won. I don’t regret it, because medicine has come back to me in a slightly different form. In my opinion, it’s hard to handle medical malpractice without a positive spin in the field. I have it and I – the nurse’s daughter and my partner – the doctor’s daughter has it. I think growing up with background medicine naturally sparks an interest in this field. In the course of conducted cases, the so-called exploring the subject, supplementing knowledge by reading medical scientific articles related to the specific field of medicine to which a particular case relates. We have a very wide range of business – from gynecology and obstetrics, which are the most numerous, through surgical and orthopedic, to plastic surgery and dentistry.
Your law firm is headquartered in Warsaw, but you are from Redło in West Pomeranian Voivodeship. Did you not want to return to your hometown after your studies at the University of Gdańsk?
I considered it during my studies, but not after graduation. My plans were verified by the choice of my further professional path. Handling medical malpractice is a very narrow field. A large city offers a greater chance of narrow specialization. Unfortunately, in my hometown it would not be possible to the same extent as in Warsaw. Nevertheless, we have business all over Poland.
However, sometimes you come back here professionally. Recently you represented the parents of girls who died in an escape room fire in Koszalin. The verdict has not been handed down, so we can’t pre-judge guilt, but your presence points to claims against emergency medical services.
The medical aspect of this case is a separate topic from the prosecution’s investigation and I cannot say more at this stage. I hope that in the course of the case we will receive answers to the questions raised during the analysis of the file.
This year, your law firm was recognized by “Forbes” as one of the best in the country in the “personal injury and medical negligence” category. How many cases end up on your lawyers’ desks every year? Are you checking the percentage of successful trials or is this a practice known from the movie?
We are very happy with the award in “Forbes”. I say “us” because this is the success of the entire Lazer & Hudziak law firm – both attorneys and administrative staff who provide solid and invaluable support in the day-to-day legal work. From year to year, there are more and more cases as patients’ legal awareness increases. When statistics creep into a lawyer’s work I feel it’s going in the wrong direction and let’s not go this way. The measure of quality should, in my view, be the client and the legal services market, so the assessment of third parties, and here I will allow myself to refer to the above ranking and timidly make a full stop in the answer to this question .