If it weren’t for litigation, I don’t think I would have a job. So much of what I respond to is driven, not by illness or injury, but by the prospect of easy money in the form of a lawsuit. Many lawyers, after all, are referred to as “Ambulance Chasers”, and I have been deposed on numerous occasions for claims of life altering pain and disability after accidents that barely knocked the dust off the bumper.
I once responded to a minor fender bender and when I ask one gentleman if he was hurt, he actually responded, “No, I’m fine, but you better take me to the hospital for litigation purposes”. Children are taught young how to work the system. I checked on a two year old secured in a child safety seat in a car involved in low speed little bump-up. I said, “Hey Sweetheart, how are you?” She replied, in a tiny little Cindy-Lou Who voice, “My neck and my back hurt”.
We, as medical responders, are not immune from being targeted as well. I remember one young lady who was involved in a minor accident. She was complaining of back pain and minor shortness of breath, so I placed her on a backboard and administered oxygen to her. Several weeks later, my employer received a letter from a lawyer seeking damages for this woman. She was claiming that she had excruciating back pain from being placed on the board, and suffered from chronic sinusitis as a result of being on 2 liters of oxygen for 30 minutes. I had followed protocol to the letter, so I did not receive any disciplinary action, but I am sure the county settled with her to avoid the hassle and expense of a trial.
I have encountered instances of “insurance-itis” even outside of my work. I was standing in a long line at a department store just before Christmas one year and was privy to a conversation between two sweet little grandmother types ahead of me in line. I say I was privy to it, but they were making no attempt to keep the topic of their discussion confidential. One was relating to the other how long it had taken her to get “her money” from an establishment that she had sued after slipping on a wet floor. The other lady replied, “Oh honey, you need to go fall down at (censored). I got my money real fast from them”!
It would seem that society would simply say no to the influx of frivolous lawsuits, but the fact of the matter is, people do suffer life altering injuries as a result of the negligence of others. The cases aren’t always cut and dried either. I have seen serious, even fatal, injuries in vehicles that have very little damage, and I have seen people walk away from crashes that render the cars unrecognizable. A person can be walking around, with no visible deficits and have a cervical spine fracture. A seemingly minor bump on the head can manifest as a bleed in the brain and the person often will not get definitive treatment until it is too late. This happened to the actress Natasha Richardson. After hitting her head during a beginners skiing lesson, she refused medical treatment twice. She did not experience any symptoms until seven hours after the accident. She was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma and the doctors were unable to save her.
It would be nice if there were a magic wand that could be passed over a person that would determine, without a doubt what was ailing (or not ailing) them. Unfortunately, that only exists is sci-fi movies. Is it acceptable for society to accept one hundred bogus lawsuits to keep one deserving victim from falling through the cracks? How about a thousand? I don’t have the answers. Do You?