Doctors, Picking Them

There are three aspects to consider when picking a doctor for a dog bite case:

First, do you trust him, do you communicate well with him, and does he do great work at a reasonable cost? The victim should pick doctors that he or she feels comfortable with. You should ask your friends whether they have recommendations. Another good source of physicians is the local university were teaching hospital. For instance, UCLA has a physician referral service, and the doctors there are very highly regarded and very good.

Second, has he ever testified as a treating physician in a personal injury lawsuit, will he agree to do so, and will he do so for a reasonable cost? If you have a choice between two doctors, you should choose the one who has experience with litigation and is not afraid of it. Unfortunately, doctors are very busy, and many of them refuse to cooperate with dog bite victims. Ask the doctor if he has testified in court, and how many times. His or her response will give you a good clue as to whether you should expect cooperation or problems. Many of the best doctors in the country are quite used to it, and quite eager to do so. If you are represented by an attorney, ask him to call the doctor for you.

Third, is he close to the courtroom where the trial would be? Pick a doctor whose office or home is close to the courthouse. If you do not, you will handicap your case, because the insurance company will know that you will never be able to get that doctor to testify in front of a jury.

Illustration: A child was bitten on the face in California. A few months before trial, his plastic surgeon moved to Illinois. By law, expert witness depositions in this state begin approximately one month before trial. Also by law, those depositions must take place within 75 miles of the courthouse. The doctor was needed for deposition preparation (testimony, review of photos, and review of plastic exhibits to be used at trial), his deposition, and again at trial a month later. This meant that the attorney could not prepare the doctor very well, and the doctor had to agree to make two trips to California involving two days each. The doctor’s daily rate for participating in the trial was $10,000. Therefore something that ordinarily would have cost $5,000 to $10,000 ended up looking like more than $20,000. As a result, the doctor could not be included in the trial, and the case weakened to the point it had to settle for much less than it was worth. The insurance company took full advantage because they correctly guessed that the doctor’s move to Illinois made the case “un-triable.”

Fourth, how will the doctor be paid? Another important consideration is how the physician will be paid. Unless you have insurance that will cover the cost, you need a doctor who will accept the case “on a lien basis.” This means that you will not be asked for payment until the case settles. But there are limitations and tricks here too. While you might have insurance that covers the initial treatment, no insurance will pay for cosmetic surgery. Also, if the work needs to be done in a hospital, many of them will not agree to accept liens. This is another area that requires the assistance of an attorney. (For more information, see Medical Bills and Insurance Overview.)