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Asking For A Friend: Lindsay Forlines Talks About Medical Malpractice

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Jeb Butler:

Some people have strong feelings about the words medical malpractice. Some people think medical malpractice cases are all frivolous. Others think that medical negligence does occur and victims deserve compensation. But one thing we’ve found to be consistent, when a person or his or her loved one has been hurt and their life changed by medical negligence suddenly they become really interested in learning more about good medical malpractice lawyers.

Jeb Butler:

Lindsay Forlines is such a lawyer. She’s been a friend of mine for a long time. She started her career doing defense work in that area, defending doctors and hospitals who were accused of medical negligence. In recent years, she’s changed her practice, and now she helps people and families who have been harmed by the negligence of hospitals, doctors, or other medical professionals. So today we’ll talk with her about that. I’ll ask some tough questions, as we learn from her the ins and outs of the law and the area of medical malpractice.

Jeb Butler:

So thank you for joining us today. Tell us who you are and what your practice is.

Lindsay Forlines:

Thank you, Jeb. It’s really good to be here today. I appreciate my friend and colleague, Jeb Butler, invited me. My name is Lindsay Forlines, and I am a personal injury attorney based out of Atlanta. I specialize in medical malpractice. That came about because I spent about 11 years on the defense side, defending mainly hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, et cetera. I decided, a few years ago, that I was going to be a better fit on the plaintiff’s side and just really felt the pull. And so as of January 1st, 2020 made the switch, started my own firm, and fortunately even getting going in the midst of a pandemic, not feeling the need to look back. So here I am.

Jeb Butler:

Okay. Well, congratulations on getting started and doing well, as I know you are. Medical malpractice plaintiff’s lawyer, that’s you?

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s right.

Jeb Butler:

You sue doctors.

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s right.

Jeb Butler:

A lot of people out there think that doctors are already subject to too much frivolous litigation and jackpot justice. I mean, is that the kind of thing that you do?

Lindsay Forlines:

No, it’s not. That sounds like a trick question. I think if you’re going to engage in the area of medical malpractice litigation, it’s very important, if you want to have a certain level of credibility, to have a high threshold for your cases. And that may not necessarily mean what people might think it means.

Jeb Butler:

What does that… Yeah, tell us what it means.

Lindsay Forlines:

It can mean different things on different cases. For me, that means that there’s no doubt about it, negligence occurred. Now reasonable minds can differ. And in many cases, the doctor, nurse provider, what have you, is going to be able to find an expert witness, which is important in this field of law, to defend their care provided. Okay. However, for me, when I’m looking at a case, if I have to really get creative with the idea of negligence, that’s probably not going to be a case that I’m going to want to take. However other things can come into that. Is the entire picture of the case, does it all come together in a way that maybe some minor actions occurred, but came together to form a big error? But again, we’re not going to take something that doesn’t meet a certain threshold in terms of negligence and frankly damages.

Jeb Butler:

Sure. So, if someone comes to you with a frivolous case against a rich doctor, what do you say?

Lindsay Forlines:

I tell them, well, first I do my best to just really listen. I’ve learned that a huge part of being a personal injury attorney is really listening. And there are so many people that feel disenfranchised in our society.

Jeb Butler:

What do you mean, disenfranchised?

Lindsay Forlines:

They don’t think that they mattered to the doctor or the hospital. And if they’ve had a bad outcome or even a questionable outcome, they may feel, and maybe not even say it to you, that it’s because they don’t matter. And so for me, the first thing I do is listen, and make them feel heard, and apologize that they’ve had a bad experience. First of all, that goes so much farther than I think anyone would realize. People think, “This lawyer’s listening to me. They’re taking me seriously.” I explain to them my thought process. And I would never use the word frivolous, but I might tell them, I am so sorry this happened, but let me explain to you how difficult it would be to wage this lawsuit. And in the best terms I can, I kind of go through the cost benefit analysis. And I don’t just mean money.

Lindsay Forlines:

I mean, time and energy. Not only mine, but the individual’s. And I just let them know. “I’m so sorry, I won’t be able to help you further.” Most people are so grateful that you listened. And a lot of people feel a lot better that they came to someone that they feel knows the system, and says, “No, I know this was rough, but I don’t think you were the victim of negligence.” Or even if we say, “That shouldn’t have been done. I don’t think it really caused your ultimate outcome.” Because that’s another part of course, the inquiry. Not only was there negligence did that negligence actually cause the person’s damages. In a medical malpractice that can be really complicated. Most people aren’t going to the doctor when they’re well.

Jeb Butler:

Right. How do most people know that medical negligence or medical error has occurred? I mean, I don’t know what my doctor’s doing most of the time. I take his or her word for it. That’s why I’m there. So how would I know?

Lindsay Forlines:

I think most people would not know. I think what ends up happening is a couple different situations. One, sometimes medical malpractice goes hand in hand with poor bedside manner. It doesn’t always, but sometimes it does.

Jeb Butler:

What is bedside manner?

Lindsay Forlines:

The way the doctor communicates. The way the doctor or nurse, I shouldn’t just say doctor, or care provider, interacts with the patient and their family.

Jeb Butler:

Okay.

Lindsay Forlines:

And sometimes that really goes hand in hand with malpractice. It doesn’t always. A lot of times people might be first and foremost, I hate to use the word victim, but the victim of bad bedside manner. So people know that when they see it.

Jeb Butler:

The doctor was a jerk.

Lindsay Forlines:

Yeah, exactly. People know that when they see it. And sometimes we say, “Hey, you didn’t get good patient care. That’s terrible customer service. But let me explain to you why I think the care met the standard of care and it didn’t cause any outcome.” But oftentimes what we hear is someone coming to us saying, “I really don’t know. And I’m not the kind of person that files a lawsuit.”

Jeb Butler:

Yeah.

Lindsay Forlines:

Which is an interesting thing, the kind of person that files a lawsuit. And they’ll say, “But my aunt really told me that maybe I should talk to a lawyer.” Or sometimes this is a lot more common than people will think, people will say “A doctor down the road said, I think you should talk to somebody.” A subsequent treating provider. Now of course, that doctor might feel a little funny about that. But that gets to a major key thing about medical malpractice to me, that I think the general public, all attorneys, and all doctors should understand, good medical malpractice plaintiff’s lawyers are a part of quality improvement of healthcare in this country. Hands down. And we have to have that in our system or we’re not going to have the right legal redress, but we’re also going to not have our healthcare where it should be.

Jeb Butler:

So in your view then, lawsuits serve some kind of preventative purpose. Not only in righting a wrong, or at least compensating someone for what they’ve been through, but in preventing other doctors from doing the same thing.

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s absolutely right, and can make major changes in the way things are done. I’m fortunate that I often work with the firm Watkins, Lourie, Roll & Chance. And I’ll give you an example of a case that Stephen Chance handled. I don’t know all the details. It was a number of years ago, but it was a meningitis case, and it ultimately resulted in a nice resolution for the family. But there was a change in certain legal regulations pertaining to, I believe, meningitis vaccinations at colleges. And so people might think, “Oh, lawyers out there chasing those ambulances.” But lawyers are the ones that often get things done. And frankly, I like to tell my doctor friends, because I still have many, fortunately, even after this switch, you need good medical malpractice lawyers on this side. So I can say to people, “I am so sorry you had this outcome, but I don’t see any negligence.” We kind of serve as a filter for those people that might think they have a lawsuit, but don’t.

Jeb Butler:

That makes good sense. So as a lawyer, is your fee a percentage of what you recover for your client?

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s right.

Jeb Butler:

And I suppose that gives you some incentive not to take a frivolous case.

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s right. I think it’s important just to talk to your clients and potential clients about that, like any personal injury attorney, right on the front end. You can’t take a case you don’t believe in because you’re sacrificing your own time and energy, which is, lawyers, that’s all we’ve got. And your financial resources.

Jeb Butler:

So let’s say that I go to a doctor, my sister goes to the doctor, and something goes wrong. We’re later told by another doctor down the road, or by my aunt who’s a nurse, or whatever, “I think you’ve been a victim of medical error, medical negligence.” What should someone do who’s in that situation?

Lindsay Forlines:

Well, the first thing I would do is I would tell anyone, call a lawyer you know and trust. And that might mean a lawyer that you know that does family law or real estate law. And the reason I say that, is that good lawyers will often know other good lawyers and they will say, “I don’t touch medical negligence, that’s not my area. But let me get a name for you.” I think that is an excellent way for people to get a lawyer they’re going to be comfortable with. Of course, we can all go to the internet and Google. I like to check where my website comes up on Google searches, but I think lawyer referrals is a great way for people to get matched up with a good lawyer.

Lindsay Forlines:

I would tell any of my family and friends just call someone you trust, get some names, and then just make a phone call. See if you can get a meeting, and talk to someone, and listen. Listen to that lawyer because it’s in their best interest to lead you in the right direction. Because again, if you really have a good case, a good lawyer’s not going to turn that down. Or if they need to, for some unknown reason, whether it’s a conflict of interest or something else, they’re going to help you get to someone that can help you.

Jeb Butler:

And we have, my firm has referred cases to you in the past when it was something you specialize in, what you do.

Lindsay Forlines:

Yes. And thank you.

Jeb Butler:

And you’ve done really well for our clients. Thank you.

Lindsay Forlines:

Thank you.

Jeb Butler:

Well, everyone is now adequately thanked. We’ll proceed to the next question. [inaudible 00:12:13] So Lindsay, before the battery ran out in my camera, you were telling us about how some of the challenges you face in medical malpractice cases.

Lindsay Forlines:

Okay. Gosh, challenges in medical malpractice cases. Unfortunately they are numerous. One I think is… Gosh, I’m kind of struggling on where to start. One is really kind of societal impression of lawyers. And I think that is something any personal injury attorney faces. This idea that lawyers are ambulance chasers. Now, personally, I think that’s a result of a large marketing campaign on behalf of insurance companies, but I digress. And there are some great insurance companies, of course, but so…

Jeb Butler:

Let’s also acknowledge that many other trial lawyers run terrible daytime TV ads that are awful. And I wish would take it off air, but that…

Lindsay Forlines:

I am so glad you said that because I don’t want to be perceived that I don’t recognize that as well. You’re right. It’s also the result of some lawyers not representing our profession as well as it should be represented. Because it is a business, but it’s a calling and a profession. I practice law just as much as physicians practice medicine. And I’m proud of that. But I digress. So that’s a difficulty. But one, I think, easily overcome if you maintain your practice and your firm in the proper light, if you will.

Lindsay Forlines:

Something that can be difficult is expert witnesses. In Georgia, like in I think almost all, if not all, states, you have to have expert medical testimony to prove your case. So we have to have an expert, first of all, to even get the lawsuit going. You have to have an expert physician, or nurse in certain cases, to sign off on an affidavit, basically stating where the negligence occurred. It’s not enough for me, or any lawyer for that matter, to look at a case and say, “Oh, this was negligence. This doctor failed to order this particular test at this time. I think that’s negligence. Here comes the lawsuit.” No, you have to have a physician or, again, a qualified professional to look and evaluate that and sign off on that. That can be difficult. It’s hard on healthcare profess professionals to criticize one another.

Lindsay Forlines:

I think the other difficulties are in the defense, lie in the defense of these lawsuits. I came from the defense, and I know from being there myself, these cases are vigorously defended often. The doctors and hospitals, as you can imagine, take these claims very seriously and are going to do a very thorough job investigating the case, working the case up, so to speak, even if the intent is to ultimately settle or maybe to ultimately settle. So you’re going to deal with good lawyers on the other side, who know what they’re doing, and who are going to have access to excellent experts as well. So you have to be able to get around those things. Otherwise you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot right out of the gate.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah. Do you find that… So if I wanted to sue a doctor and you’re my lawyer, we would have to find an expert to join us?

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s right.

Jeb Butler:

And that expert would have to be a doctor. Do you find that doctors are sometimes reluctant to testify against other doctors?

Lindsay Forlines:

Yes, absolutely. Oftentimes it requires getting a doctor out of the state or out of the region. It’s uncomfortable for doctors to testify against their direct peers, if you will. Sometimes though, there’s exceptions because many good doctors recognize again that this is a type of quality improvement. So you just have to know where to look. For me personally, I’m grateful that, having been on the defense side, when I call a physician that I worked with in the past, when I was on the defense side, I’ll call and they remember me and I’m hopeful. And I think that lends some credibility that they know that I’m not going to prosecute just anything. It’s going to be what I feel is a good, solid case. That makes me think, Jeb, of something I need to add to the list of difficulties is cost. These are expensive cases to bring.

Jeb Butler:

Why?

Lindsay Forlines:

Number one is experts. And that can be-

Jeb Butler:

What are we were talking about $500, $2,000?

Lindsay Forlines:

It completely depends on the case and the expert. Most good experts nowadays, I think run at least $400 to upwards of $1000 an hour, depending on the specialty.

Jeb Butler:

Wow.

Lindsay Forlines:

Of course, if you’re going to get a neurosurgeon, he’s going to be taking time away from his neurosurgical practice to look at your case. And we don’t want hired guns. We want the good folks out there in the trenches, practicing medicine, to say, “Hey, this isn’t within the standard of care.” So they’re going to charge you what they’re losing from taking away from their medical practice. Now, a simple case might just take a few hours to review.

Jeb Butler:

Let’s just… Yeah, go ahead.

Lindsay Forlines:

But a complicated case might not.

Jeb Butler:

Like what’s your maximum outlay for a really well qualified expert all the way to the trial of the case. Are we talking… What multiples here?

Lindsay Forlines:

I think it, again, varies tremendously based on the type of case. Some cases are going to have this many medical records, if we’re talking about pages. Some are going to be stacks on the floor like this. It depends on the complexity of the care provided, the length of the care provided, the number of specialties involved. A complex case where a patient was admitted for a certain number of weeks or months… I’ve got one right now, we’re looking at that’s 4,000 pages of records and we are going to… No doubt it’s definitely a case. We will have four different specialties of experts. Because multiple specialties made some errors. And then if you have to get into experts for causation, we’re talking about, in a small case, even in a really small case, I don’t see how you’re going to get away with less than 20, 30, 40,000 an expert. In a big case, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Jeb Butler:

So what if I’ve been, if I, or my wife, or my child’s been a victim of medical negligence, and I don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars, how could I possibly bring a case?

Lindsay Forlines:

Well, and that’s why you just need to talk to an attorney, or get referred to an attorney you feel comfortable with. And that’s why, thankfully, we do have a contingency based system. It doesn’t matter what the individual who’s been harmed can afford because the attorney that they interview with… It’s a mutual interview. I’m interviewing the client. The client’s interviewing me. If we decide to embark on this together, the lawyer or lawyers involved take on all expenses. And there is no money paid by the individual or their family, unless they have some recovery, whether that be through a settlement or through a verdict.

Jeb Butler:

So you would pay the experts and your clients wouldn’t pay anything unless and until you recover money. At which point the client would pay you back those expenses, but only out of the amount that you’ve recovered for the client. That right?

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s correct.

Jeb Butler:

Okay.

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s correct. And that’s why it’s so important for lawyers in this area to take on cases they think they have a good chance of recovering something. Because otherwise that money is not recouped.

Jeb Butler:

Gone. Into the ether.

Lindsay Forlines:

That’s right.

Jeb Butler:

All right. We’re going to run out of time. So I want to ask you one more question. I say one more, when a lawyer says one more question, it’s usually not just one more. But I will try. One more topic. If you’re working a medical malpractice case, what do you need from your client, during the sort of duration of the representation, for as long as y’all are working together?

Lindsay Forlines:

Wow, that’s a really great question. I think the first thing that I ask for from my clients is patient and candor. If a client holds back, they are doing me, but also themselves and their case, a tremendous disservice. There’s very little chance that information that’s detrimental to the case won’t be discovered by the other side. It is always better to tell your attorney any bad information. First of all, you need to remember the attorney client privilege. Your lawyer’s not going to go run telling people that or use that against you. But it’s always better for your lawyer to know that information so that it can be addressed appropriately. And many times what folks worry about turns out to be not that big of a deal. However, if the other side discloses it and thinks they have a gotcha moment, it can create a problem where there didn’t need to be one. In a medical negligence case that can look like if the patient saw another doctor who had a conflicting opinion, or if the patient didn’t seek care for a period of time, or if the patient… Yeah.

Jeb Butler:

Sometimes clients do worry about things like I got arrested when I was 25 in a bar fight, or I mean, Lord knows what else. I’ve had some financial difficulties and I’ve had to declare bankruptcy. Are these things that you can work around or are these things that just mean there’s no case?

Lindsay Forlines:

No absolutely, they can be worked around. Everyone is entitled to medical care that meets the standard of care. It’s not just available to those who’ve had a lily white past. Most of that stuff would be discoverable, as we say, the other side would be entitled to know about it, but not admissible in the courtroom. So we can minimize that damage and mitigate that damage if we know about it. And then again, I mentioned patients because medical lawsuits, and this would also go in the difficulty column, they take a long time. It takes a long time to properly investigate the claims, work the claims up, and then that’s even before you file a lawsuit. And then once the lawsuit is filed, it’s going to take a while for the case to work its way through the process. And we’re talking about, this often surprises people, we’re talking about years.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, Lindsay, thank you so much for sitting down with me and doing this interview. It’s been fun for me. I hope fun for you and, I hope, good for the folks who watch it.

Lindsay Forlines:

Thank you, Jeb. I appreciate it. And always glad to have an opportunity to talk and learn from you.

Jeb Butler:

Ah, well maybe. Thanks.

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