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Posts Tagged ‘. tort’

Happy Ending… Sort Of

Shadenfruede… taking joy in another’s misfortune. I’d like to think I don’t experience it much and I think I felt guilty back in 1985.. but the death if Mr. Enciso was good news to me. In case you are just coming into my world and my saga, Me Enciso was ‘torted” by the Los Angeles County Hospital. Yes, I am pretty sure he was. They should never have kept on is stomach with his implant and all unable to move. Nasty

 

So why wasn’t the county negotiating? I remember Sandy being frustrated and I think surprised by their refusal to negotiate once we had filed and served. Some time went by—I don’t remember what she did during that time—I think probably  sent letters and made calls—the usual strategy for settlement back in the halcyon days when insurance carriers settled cases. (This was in the days of Royal Globe. Cases settled.) One thing is sure—I always knew what was going on with everybody cases. We had a small office and cubicles and we all talked about cases, I learned a lot from overhearing the various partners’ calls.

I felt daunted by the fact that I had no clue what to do at first—I would stare at the phoned an try to decide what I  would say when I got opposing counsel on the line. Luckily. I had a few successes negotiating a small collateral insurance policy and discovered I had a knack for negotiation, But first, the sad story of Massey Enciso.

Some time into negotiations—I remember how wrong it seemed at the time—the County revealed to us that there had been an early claim against the County made by Mr. Enciso. You see, the dance is, you file a claim, the public entity denies it (yes always) and then you get permission to sue. Then you have a short widow of time in which to do so.

 

Well, it seems prior attorney Mr. Enciso had failed to mention had done this–and the prior attorney had not filed within the statute. His case had been bared when he came to us. We were dead in the water.

Sandy and whoever else was involved had not met with Mr. Enciso—being he was paraplegic he had not come into the office. I will never know if there was a question that should have been asked and wasn’t—I would tend to think so. “Have you sought legal counsel before  now?” *There was some delay after all.) “What treatment have you sought?” I know I always asked such questions when I was solo. But maybe not. Maybe Mr. Massey Enciso lied. I don’t know—I wasn’t there. I just signed the pleading due to quirk of timing. (I will also never know if my intuition made me a better interrogator of potential clients, or if I just learned a useful lesson from this. I do know I was seldom if ever blindsided by a client.)

So, some time later when Mr. Enciso died, the case against me and the firm also died. There are no lost wages when  an indigent  client dies—and pain and suffering dies with the person no matter what was  done  to them. I was off  the hook. Oddly, in retrospect, I remember arguing for and (I think) negotiating a small sum being paid to the common law “wife” (who was really just his girlfriend under California law) as her loss of consortium claim was thin, and I felt sorry for he, So she got some money. I doubt she appreciated it—but I felt it was right. And back then carriers settled cases and that ended this one… except if I ever apply to be an attorney in another state. Sigh.

Next—suffering through incompetence.

Oh Sh*t—Now What Do I Do?

I thought of giving this segment of the saga a cutesy name—but I couldn’t. Trust me—when you are a lawyer overnight, and we all are… this is pretty much how you SHOULD feel.

You see, unlike doctors (who get out through a really long and painful—serious sleep deprivation included, no extra charge—residency) lawyers don’t. You get your Bar Exam results, you get sworn in and presto change-o—you are a lawyer. You are licensed and you are free to do whatever work you can ethically do… see Ethics Rule 1.1. (Yes, yes,  I know—it is a popular belief that lawyers have no ethics.  But in 1983 advertising was still prohibited–and some of us lawyers did follow the MANY ethical rules. Still do. Yes, I know—hard to believe—thank you, Larry Parker. But true.

So I was sworn in December 12, 1983. I guess it must have been December 13 when I showed up at work  newly minted—but I remember  very well what my first act was that day. (Well I had forgotten until I started to write this, but it came back pretty quick.) I got to the office in Glassell Park, probably just before 9:00—I tend to be early—and the two secretaries were there, but none of the partners. The secretaries were quite upset, because they had found a nest of mice. It was my job to deal with this emergency. Lucky for me, I am not in the least afraid of mice.

I captured them—they were teensy and really very cute—in a waste basket. But then, what on earth was I to do with them? I think I couldn’t bring myself to drown them… and so I think–I KNOW– I dithered for some time, until Sandy showed up and (bless her forever) told me to take them across the street and “tell them to go play.” I will be forever grateful. I am, to this day. I am sure Sandy forgot it the next day. Not me. Nosiree.

And thus I began the practice of law. I don’t recall precisely when I signed my first pleading. (Magically, I had this power!! My signature carried the weight of all the causes of action this person had–I was speaking to the court on his be behalf! This is far more earth shaking than it may sound.)  I do remember what it was… as it ended up being a fateful turn of events. It was a personal injury case (our office did all sorts of law, but Sandy did mostly PI. Her husband was a physician which came in very handy.) One Massey Enciso was suing the County Hospital of Los Angeles.

Of course, suing a county, or any public agency, is not so simple, so there had been plenty of work done before that day. (All government agencies make it very hard to sue them. The steps in the dance will be relevant later.) I did not do much, if any, of these prerequisites to getting permission to file. I never met Mr. Enciso and I did not make any of the decisions that led to the complaint we filed–the partners just let me sign the darn thing because I could. It’s a pretty big deal. I am thinking it may have been December 1983. I am not sure. But let me assure you, I am very sure I learned what not to do from that case!

The details of the gentleman’s problems are fairly gruesome. (One thing about law—it is NOT boring—not when you are actually doing personal injury work it isn’t.) He had an injury to a very personal part of his anatomy. (We had three such cases for a while, and the joke around the office was that at Grayson Maxwell & Sugarman, “PI” did not mean “personal injury, it meant “penis injury”…)

If anyone knows what a decubitus ulcer is… he had one. Yes, there. (Do NOT look at the link if you have a weak stomach.) He had it there because he was paraplegic and had been having his OTHER decubitus ulcers debrided. (Cleaned.) As I said, a tad gruesome. If I told you the main reason that part of him had that pressure sore, it would be too gross. Just take the fact that he was a paraplegic and had certain issues (and a “common law wife—which is not possible legally but…) and put two and two together. Or write to me if curiosity is really killing you. But he had it– and it was most unfortunate for his ability to make use the device which caused it. If you follow. Hey– this was my initiation into law—what can I say?
So, bottom line, the hospital had indeed screwed up. Hospitals are supposed to help people like paraplegics, who get these nasty problems, not GIVE them to them. Even if they are essentially destitute.  (As many paraplegics are, for some strange reason.) Slam dunk, right? Well, that’s what all three partners thought. Wrong. After I left the firm, in 1985, I had the thrill of being served at work with a malpractice lawsuit. I can’t tell you what a treat that was. Served AT MY OFFICE (where I was now defense counsel for Hartford Insurance.) Ouch.

Why was that served on me—who had done zilch? (And when the partners really had not done any “bad thing” –id est, commit malpractice?) Well… I’ll get to that. I am pretty sure I hold the distinction of being the first person in my law school class to be served with malpractice suit. I was shocked–and saw it as a “live by the sword die by the sword” sort of moment. (Just so you know–the story has a sort of happy ending—for me, not for Mr. Enciso.) And when I went to aply to the Arizona Stare Bar guess what I had to report! Yep. that lawsuit.  They don’t go away.

Next time I will explain how THAT joyous experience–the one thing lawyers all dread—came to be. “You have been sued.” (And served at work.)   And I will also explain the  true meaning of the word Shadenfreude