Victims' advocate believes crisis solved through trust: Q & A with Wojcieszak

Ann Knef Dec. 9, 2004, 9:27am

Doug Wojcieszak

Doug Wojcieszak heads a Metro-East advocacy group, Victims and Families United, which did not favor tort reform initiatives introduced recently in the Illinois state legislature. Wojcieszak is a former policy director for the Illinois House Republican organization.

Q: Human error occurs regularly in all areas of life. How do you correct a medical system in which doctors rely more on tests and less on clinical experience for fear of being sued?

A: Restore communication and trust between doctors and patients and fix the fundamental system problems in medicine. Our medical system is world renowned for break-through technologies and superbly trained physicians, but we have let many basic processes slip, which has led to many medical errors and preventable injuries and deaths.

Physicians are not trained to deal with these errors, which produces many lawsuits. Sorry Works! fixes the process from the ground up. By acknowledging errors and communicating in a humane way to patients and families, doctors dramatically reduce the chance of being sued. And by talking openly about errors, physicians have a better chance of fixing the system flaws so the errors don’t happen again.

If people sincerely want to fix the medical crisis, Sorry Works! is the way to do it.

Q: What went wrong in the last Illinois General Assembly in which the legislature failed to take action on the medical malpractice issue?

A: On the trial bar/Democratic side I believe many people were reluctant to budge because they believe this insurance crisis will self-correct. After all, every 10 years or so we see this flux from “hard” to “soft” insurance markets, and there is good reason to believe we are starting to go back to a “soft” market.

On the tort reform/GOP side, I think many of my former colleagues will admit that they had a great campaign issue and were not going to let a legislative solution take away their political weapon.

Q: Would your group support legislation aimed at establishing a separate court to adjudicate medical malpractice cases?

A: It’s not really on our radar screen. Whether you have a new, separate medical court or try to tinker with the current system, you’re not really getting to the important, underlying issues in the medical malpractice crisis. The most important issues in the med-mal debate are restoring communication and trust between medical providers and patients and fixing the system flaws. No other plan does this better than Sorry Works!

Q: What issues are under-reported on this subject? Over-reported?

A: I think the role of defense lawyers in the medical malpractice crisis is grossly under-reported. Everyone is so quick to beat up plaintiffs’ lawyers for making large fees, but they are giving a pass to the defense lawyers who needlessly stretch out cases to rack up billable hours.

Frivolous lawsuits? Try frivolous defenses!

We have had more than one doctor tell us about a case that they wanted to settle quickly only to have a defense lawyer step in the way, cut off communication with the family, and rack up huge legal fees while turning doctors and patients into enemies. It’s not right. Sorry Works! addresses this problem.

In the category of over-reported, I believe the media has over-reported (and incorrectly so) that lawyers are solely responsible for medical malpractice lawsuits. A lawyer can’t file a lawsuit without an angry patient or family. Anger - not greed - is what drives med-mal lawsuits. Sorry Works! dispels the anger and that’s why it works.

Q: What concessions need to be made within the medical and insurance industries as well as the plaintiff’s bar?

A: I think this is the tough part - no one really wants to make major concessions. And this is why we are pushing Sorry Works! so hard because no side has to make a concession with this program.
Medical lawsuits are reduced as are settlement and liability costs, but more victims receive justice in a quick fashion, constitutional rights are NOT limited, and medical errors are reduced.

Sorry Works! is the “middle ground” solution that provides what all stakeholders in the debate want most.

Q: Over time, what net effect will the election of Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier have on Illinois?

A: There is no question Karmeier has the opportunity to change the judiciary in the 5th district through appointments.

However, the biggest change we may see from Karmeier’s election is the way we choose our judges. Karmeier himself has said he was disturbed by the campaign process. He should be.

For years we have heard tort reformers complain about the trial bar “buying” judges. So what did the tort reformers do? They went out and bought their own judge. Karmeier’s campaign disclosure reports are a laundry list of Fortune 500 companies.

If Karmeier is to maintain his image as an ethical judge, he will have to recuse himself from countless cases involving his contributors. This system is flawed.

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