Physician wants suit against West Virginia lawyers reinstated

Trial lawyers say there is no merit in the case tying them to the tort crisis.

By Tanya Albert amednews correspondent — Posted June 14, 2004

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The West Virginia ob-gyn who filed a lawsuit against the state's trial lawyers group and its president isn't giving up in her quest to hold them responsible for the state's unfavorable medical liability insurance climate.

Julie K. McCammon, MD, in May asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to hear a request to reinstate her case against the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Assn. and William L. Frame.

Her complaint, originally filed in Harrison County (W.Va.) Circuit Court, claims that trial lawyers have filed frivolous, non-meritorious and malicious lawsuits against physicians that have caused "unwarranted and stifling" increases in liability insurance premiums.

A lower court threw out the claim, which asks for damages for economic losses, professional limitations, emotional distress and mental anguish, as well as other noneconomic damages. The judge said there were no facts to support Dr. McCammon's claims, and she had no right to monetary damages.

The Clarksburg physician handled the initial court filings herself, but two lawyers have helped her with her appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Andrew L. Schlafly, a New Jersey lawyer representing Dr. McCammon along with West Virginia lawyer Mark Cabaniss, said he believes the odds are good that the court will let Dr. McCammon go forward with discovery. He said lawyer associations train attorneys to file lawsuits against doctors.

"It's long overdue that lawyer associations are held accountable," Schlafly said. "The lawyers association should not get special treatment. They are accountable to the same standards as everyone else."

In her petition asking the court to reconsider her lawsuit, Dr. McCammon argues that her case should be allowed to go forward because the judge who dismissed it, Booker T. Stephens, had a conflict of interest. Stephens is married to an attorney who is a member of the state Trial Lawyers Assn.

"A decision in favor of plaintiff-appellant could cause Judge Stephens' wife to incur a financial expense or perhaps even a limitation on her economic opportunities," Dr. McCammon's appeal states.

Dr. McCammon also argues that the lower court erred when it stopped discovery in the case and erred in the way it classified her complaint, asking her to prove things that she shouldn't have to prove in order to go forward with her lawsuit.

Gregory H. Schillace, the West Virginia lawyer representing the state Trial Lawyers Assn., said under the law, the association does not have a duty to Dr. McCammon. And he said Frame has never sued Dr. McCammon for medical malpractice.

"I don't think, based upon the issues they appealed, that the Supreme Court will take the case," he said.

At press time, the trial lawyers group had not yet filed its response to Dr. McCammon's request to the state Supreme Court.

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