Lawyer of the Year

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, December 28, 1998

[excerpt from article of December 28, 1998]

Multi-million-dollar verdicts and settlements in the emotional and lucrative field of medical malpractice are old hat for Drew Meyer, who had another banner year in 1998 by chalking up several $1-million-plus recoveries, including what is believed to be the commonwealth's largest award ever in a wrongful-death suit.

Q. After the vast number of medical malpractice cases you've handled, what is your general opinion of the medical establishment in Massachusetts?

A. I believe that Massachusetts is one of the finest medical centers in the world. At its best, Massachusetts offers the best doctors, the best hospitals and the best medicine. But at its worst, it does not do very much to clean up the problems that exist in the lower areas of the practice. There is very little if any effort to regulate and maintain high standards. Rather, what we end up seeing are pockets of deficiencies that simply go unaddressed, and, to some extent, protected by medical professionals. They recognize within their profession that there are these major deviations from the high levels that many of the doctors practice. We end up seeing the really bad mistakes, and instead of an effort to correct and protect against them from happening again, we see an effort to cover them up and keep from the public information that these errors do exist.

Q. You once said that "med-mal cases are not won or lost on the medicine since you can't teach the jury something on a Tuesday and ask them to find for you on a substantial verdict three days later." So how do you win your cases?

A. I try and locate within the particular set of facts or case, issues which are understandable to the jury and which they knew were either right or wrong before they ever sat down in the jury box. They might not understand which tool to use during a particular operation; you would have to teach them that. But they do understand that if a doctor should be at the hospital in five minutes and it's an emergency, and it takes him two hours to get there — that's wrong. Those kinds of issues are the ones which resonate with the jury, which they understand and which they knew before they ever sat down in the jury box.

Q. What's been your most difficult case to date?

A. Every medical-malpractice case is a difficult case. There's no such thing as an easy case. Our clients come into the office and often say to us, "This is open and shut." And I tell them there is no such thing as an open-and-shut medical-malpractice case. There is no case in which I have not seen a defense raised and argued and sometimes presented to a jury & — right down to cases where they've operated on the wrong leg or left instruments inside people. Some of the most obvious mistakes are still defended. I find the most compelling and difficult cases for me personally — and I don't mean academically difficult — are the [ones] where we represent children who have ongoing medical needs, whose families have been permanently and tragically altered by some event.... Those cases carry with them such importance for the families and the individuals, that for me personally, they're the most difficult because I understand the importance of the result.

Q. You've said that the most egregious cases are often sealed by secrecy agreements and the number of cases that are reported are only a fraction of what actually exists. Do you see confidentiality agreements as a growing trend and how does this impact lawyers?

A. I believe confidentiality agreements are against public policy. They work to the detriment not only of the clients, but to the detriment of society. [They] really stand in the way of information that can be helpful in determining where the pockets of problems are in this state.... The client, for the most part, doesn't want confidentiality. For the most part, they brought the case because they want to expose what happened. Further, we as lawyers have a social responsibility not to cover up or maintain secrecy or to sign along. ... If we maintain that information ourselves and don't expose it, we end up in a situation where we may actually be participating in allowing harm to come to others.

Q. Is it still difficult to find doctors to testify against other doctors in medical-malpractice cases?

A. It's less difficult today than it was in the past to find people who will, under the appropriate set of circumstances, come forward and speak their minds. I tend not to look at it as doctors testifying against each other, as I do doctors testifying as to what good medicine is all about, and how an appropriate set of medical circumstances ought to be handled, or how a condition ought to be dealt with. Through the exposure of the various frailties of the institution and pockets of problems in the various hospitals across the state, more doctors are receptive to saying, "Yes, that's wrong. I will speak up about that problem." And there seems to be more of a trend amongst doctors who want to protect their patients.

Q. Your office handles a substantial number of misdiagnosed breast cancer cases. As breast cancer awareness and education becomes more and more prevalent, do you foresee a decline in these cases?

A. We would have hoped that we'd see a decline in these kinds of cases. It astounds us that we see the amount of failure to diagnose breast cancer cases that we do. One of the difficulties we have at trial is convincing a jury that a doctor would, in fact, send a woman home with a lump in her breast. [Yet] it happens. ... We know it happens because we see as much of it as we do. But from the juror's point of view, they can't understand how is it that a doctor would ever feel a lump in a woman's breast and not take the immediate and thorough diagnostic steps to determine what the cause is. ... I can only hope that the exposure of the cases that we bring, and the verdicts that we've been successful in achieving, and the publicity that those verdicts get, will help frighten — if necessary — those doctors who believe that they can diagnose cancer with their fingers.

Q. Verdicts in medical-malpractice cases seem to have grown larger and larger over the years. Does this signify that juries no longer hold physicians in high regard and perhaps are beginning to question the medical establishment?

A. I think the larger verdicts of today are more the result of the comfort level jurors have with large verdicts. Large verdicts are not just appearing in medical areas. ... In most of the cases that result in multi-million-dollar verdicts, there is economic support for them. These are not pain-and-suffering verdicts; these are not cosmetic verdicts. The cases that result in the seven-figure verdicts are cases that involve economic loss — either years of lost income or years of future medical care. So the size of the verdict is really reflective of the nature of the injury. And jurors are no longer frightened of large numbers - when it's warranted.

Q. What's been the toughest case you've ever lost?

A. Every case I lose is a tough case. I don't think we ever walk away from any case without taking it very hard. We don't bring a case without believing that we're right. And we don't bring a case without believing that our client is entitled to compensation and some type of fairness in a jury verdict. Any time a jury doesn't agree with that, or finds against our client, is one which we are devastated by. It's a very hard moment. Any committed, dedicated trial lawyer, I think, would agree.

Q. How do you think opposing counsel would describe you when you're in the courtroom?

A. I think I'm vigorous, thorough, prepared. I think those who see us try cases recognize that the presentation we put forth in a courtroom is well thought-out, well organized, well researched and well presented at all levels.

Q. Med-mal is an emotionally charged field. Is burnout a potential risk?

A. Tell me about it! Anybody who tries as many cases as we do runs the risk of burnout. There are only so many cases any of us can try. It's a constant source of conversation, not only in my office but in conversations with defense counsel. ... I've always said that every time you try one of these cases - whether you win or lose — it's like taking a little slice of your heart. The ultimate question is how many slices do you have to give away. You just keep going as long as you can, and you do what you think is right for the people you feel have been wronged.

Q. What's the best advice you ever received as a lawyer?

A. I think when I began practicing I had a lot more of what I would now view as misdirected energy on behalf of my clients. And I believe that those lawyers who practice as angry young men are making a serious mistake. I think the best advice [I've received] has been to understand that civility amongst lawyers is important. I have been heartened of late by observing and experiencing a camaraderie amongst the lawyers whom I deal with — not only other plaintiffs' lawyers but defense lawyers. As I get older, I realize — and I think they realize — that we're all doing what we think is right for our clients, and regardless of who we represent and without ever compromising the interests of our clients and those we represent, we can respect and admire the efforts of those who are opposed to us. ... The more of us who recognize that, the longer we'll all last at this and a better job we'll all do for the community we serve.

Q. Finally, what do you think has been the secret to your success?

A. I think the reason we are as successful as we are is because of our staff. We have put together an extraordinarily talented group of dedicated lawyers and nurses. They believe in what they do. They interact with people who have met tragedy on a daily basis. They are committed to not only helping the individuals who come in here, and learning about what happened to their loved ones or themselves, and getting answers to what is oftentimes a medical puzzle, but [they] get justice and fairness for them and [do] not allow medical negligence or mistakes to be swept under the rug. So the people we have here in our office is really the secret to our success.

Read Andrew C. Meyer, Jr.’s medical malpractice attorney bio.

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