One way to reduce the surfeit of malpractice litigation, says Jeffrey Segal, M.D., is to file more lawsuits.
Segal, a neurosurgeon, is founder of Medical Justice Legal Insurance of Greensboro, N.C., which, for a fee of $750 to $1,500 a year (depending on one's specialty and location), will take patients who file frivolous lawsuits to court.
Medical Justice, which began in April 2002, doesn't take the place of regular malpractice insurance but supplements it, Segal says.
Though the company has only a few hundred clients in eight states and has yet to take any plaintiff to court, Segal says plaintiffs' attorneys are already backing off.
In Florida, where Medical Justice has sold the most memberships, Segal reports only 2% of his clients are sued each year, compared with 10% to 15% of Florida physicians overall.
Segal says trial attorneys know early on if doctors have Medical Justice coverage, because lawyers ask prospective defendants about their malpractice carrier when thinking about filing a lawsuit.
Frivolous lawsuits-those dropped without any payment to the plaintiff-are said to account for about half of all malpractice cases filed, generating substantial legal costs that raise premiums. But malpractice carriers rarely, if ever, countersue, which bothered Segal when colleagues were targeted by frivolous lawsuits in 1998.
"It seemed that if we pooled our resources, we could do something about this," he recalls.
As chairman of biotech company DarPharma, in Chapel Hill, N.C., Segal says he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing the new company.
To strengthen its hand in a countersuit, the company recently introduced a contract for clients' patients to sign that pledges they will not file a frivolous lawsuit-thus giving Medical Justice a case for breach of contract if such a suit is filed.
Segal says the company also is monitoring expert witnesses who misrepresent the standard of care and is reporting them to the growing number of medical societies that investigate experts.
The company operates in Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.