Doctors-Lawyers Squabble Remains Civil in Wyoming

June 23, 2004

Some doctors in other states are refusing to treat lawyers opposed to medical malpractice insurance reform. But it isn’t happening in Wyoming, according to local doctors and attorneys.

Despite Wyoming’s small population and inevitability of doctors and lawyers requiring each other’s services, both groups seem to have been able to stay above the fray.

“As frustrating as this all is, doctors are very much into helping patients, no matter who they are,” said Rep. Larry Meuli, R-Cheyenne, a retired doctor. “I think in the Cheyenne area, they’ve maintained professionalism.”

Trial attorneys, in Wyoming and elsewhere, have opposed efforts supported by doctors to cap malpractice damage awards as a way to stem rising malpractice insurance costs. The lawyers say such limits could hurt the ability of injured patients to recover damages. Physicians say such reforms are necessary to keep doctors in business.

Dr. Robert Monger, a rheumatologist for Cheyenne Medical Specialists and vice president of the Wyoming Medical Society, a doctor’s group, said he occasionally hears doctors make off-the-cuff remarks about the situation, but he doesn’t think the idea of withholding services is gaining any support in the state.

Doctors are frustrated with how long it has taken the state to address their rising insurance rates and may want to make a personal issue of it with legislators and lawyers, Monger said. But he thinks most people are doing a good job of separating their feelings from their work.

Monger attended the American Medical Association meeting in Chicago last week, during which a doctor from Charleston, S.C., proposed refusing medical treatment of attorneys involved in malpractice cases.

Susie Wacker, associate executive director of the Wyoming Medical Society, said too much is being made off the debate, adding that the doctor who made the proposal was practically booed off the floor.

There has been no talk of doctors not treating plaintiffs’ attorneys or their families in Wyoming, Wacker said.

“Wyoming physicians continue to display professionalism in providing care to all of their patients,” she said. “They may not agree with any given patient on a particular issue, but there’s no reason why this particular issue would cause them to withhold care for any reason.”

Kent Spence, newly elected president of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, said he’s only read about the problem in other parts of the country.

“I’ve heard of doctors charging lawyers $4,000 to give a deposition, as some sort of punishment or retribution for a plaintiff’s lawyer being a plaintiff’s lawyer,” Spence said, adding that a reasonable deposition charge for a doctor would be around $200-$500 an hour. “But I haven’t seen it run wild like that in Wyoming.”

“I would hope that doctors in Wyoming decide to handle this kind of a situation differently,” he said.

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