Who sues? Doctors, writers and retired folk

“I am exploring my possible remedies,” [John] Grisham said, “with plans to file an action.” But [Philip] Roth has decided not to sue. “It would take two years, and multiple trips to Italy,” he said. “It would distract me from my writing, and, worst of all, I would have to obsess about it.” Fake Philip Roth, John Grisham interviews : The New Yorker. By Judith Thurman, April 5, 2010.

I remind you the names are faux, but here are a few factual stories about not-yet-famous friends and relations who have been (or should have been) involved in lawsuits.

Doc Bodeeker, age 56, was fired by a medical practice he had just joined, despite having a three-year contract. Why? Because Doc insisted on spending his time caring for his patients while the medical practice had a conflicting dynamic: a couple of minutes with each patient, in and out fast. (Among other bad things, that’s Medicare and Medicaid fraud.)

Doc consulted a lawyer who attempted but failed at negotiating what should have been an easy and appropriate settlement. Doc’s lawyer thereupon went all whiny when it came time to file a lawsuit. (Amazing, but some lawyers will whine. I’ve always thought whining was the plaintiff’s exclusive province.)  So Doc himself negotiated a settlement that wasn’t as good as it should have been, in my opinion, but he didn’t ask my opinion.  (My opinion:I wanted the fraud exposed and for Doc to get an appropriate amount of money.) But hey, Doc’s a Tibetan Buddhist and wanted peace, not litigation.

Doris Clare, then age 55, a creative veep of an advertising mega-agency, was getting the impression the company didn’t want her around any longer because she was a couple of decades older than most of her co-workers, even though her hair was at that time punk pinky-platinum. If they fired her, though, it’d be age discrimination so they weren’t firing her. After consulting an employment lawyer and following his specific blueprint, Doris negotiated her own separation agreement and a solid settlement.

Midgie Muldoon, 60, was fired by a gargantuan non-profit for murky reasons, one of which was certainly her age and oh do I wish I could name the non-profit because you’d be scandalized and maybe stop sending them money but Midgie filed a federal lawsuit for wrongful termination, etc. and after it was settled, Midgie signed an agreement forbidding her to disclose the proceeding and I don’t want to queer her pitch.

Eloise Simmons Bragdon, over 80, was taking her daily walk when a car backed into her, broke some significant bones and knocked her out. Next thing Eloise knew she was laid out flat in a helicopter, sort of like in M.A.S.H., being flown to the local medical center.

Months and months later, after extensive periods in the hospital and a so-called therapeutic nursing facility, Eloise received a bill for the helicopter service she hadn’t actually signed off on since she’d been comatose at all relevant times. The bill was $7500 but by that time Eloise Simmons Bragdon had been shoved reluctantly (Eloise Simmons Bragdon is yet another Buddhist) by her children into a lawsuit that was satisfactorily settled. Somebody probably paid the helicopter company.

Okay Okun, an eminent professor, got involved in a righteous lawsuit because a colleague in his field published something false, Okay Okun critiqued it in a professional journal, the colleague sued Okay for libel and Okay was forced to defend himself.

Okay won. His employer should have reimbursed him for the fees he incurred while defending himself, but didn’t. So Okay contemplated suing the employer but had to pull out because it would have cost more than it was worth.

Later I’ll tell you more such stories. I’ll also explain what Philip Roth understood: a lawsuit is indeed an obsessive activity but obsession, when managed properly, is a plaintiff’s greatest strength. And it beats whining.

Summation

  • To reiterate, a goodly percentage of us must sue.
  • Buddhists seem to have problems with suing.
  • Amazing, but lawyers – who will usually advise settlement long before you, the plaintiff, have worked out enough of your angst to make settlement psychologically acceptable – sometimes turn into wimps just when you need them to be fierce.
  • If you’ve ever witnessed the treatment people get in “nursing facilities,” you’ll sign up immediate for long term care insurance. I did. In New York State, there is a joint state-private insurer program that virtually halves the annual cost. Info can be found at Long Term Care Insurance – New York State Partnership for Long-Term Care In my case, I pay a little over $3000 a year.
  • Philip Roth may not have time to sue. The rest of us do.

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