Objective: To characterize patients calling plaintiff attorneys' offices and claiming to have suffered injury caused by medical negligence.
Design: Telephone interviews with an inception cohort of callers to law firms with malpractice complaints before the callers talk to attorneys.
Setting: Six law offices in five states.
Participants: 502 of 730 callers over 10 randomly selected days in 1991.
Measurements: Demographics of potential plaintiffs, types of health care providers named by callers, factors prompting calls, economic and noneconomic motivations for claims, and disposition of claims.
Results: An average of 12 calls per office per day were received by law firms concerning malpractice complaints. Many factors affected patients' decisions to call: poor relationships with providers before an injury (53%); television advertising by law firms (73%); explicit recommendations by health care providers to seek legal counsel (27%); impressions of not being kept informed or appropriately referred by providers; and financial concerns (for example, 36% with earned income and outstanding medical bills had bills equaling or exceeding 50% of their annual income, 33% were unemployed, and 31% lacked health insurance). One in 30 calls led to the filing of a lawsuit.
Conclusions: Calls to plaintiff law firms by patients are common, are motivated by diverse factors, represent dissatisfaction with modern health care, and infrequently lead to lawsuits.