Success Comes Early and Often
For Med-Mal Lawyer
Published by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, December 15, 2003
by Jeanne Greeley
Stroll the halls of Boston’s Lubin & Meyer and you get the distinct feeling that you’ve just entered the Hall of Fame for medical malpractice attorneys, their names and faces emblazoned on gold plaques announcing stunning victories and gigantic jury awards.
But sitting in a conference room that is wallpapered with more accolades, attorney Adam R. Satin is a picture of modesty as he recounts the successes he’s had with the firm since becoming an associate there in April 2000.
Multi-million-dollar jury awards are downplayed as “learning experiences” by the 32-year-old plaintiff’s attorney, who emphasizes that many of these wins came as Satin sat second chair to the legendary Andrew C. Meyer Jr. And talk of his hard-fought appeal before the Supreme Judicial Court still makes Satin’s eyes light up as he recalls how enamored he was by the stature of that panel of jurists.
“That was the single most exciting day of my practice — ever,” Satin says of arguing the case of Dias v. Brigham Medical Associates, Inc., which was reported in Lawyers Weekly as one of the Most Important Opinions of 2002.
It is with the same enthusiasm that Satin recounts the details of cases he’s handled that have resulted in much smaller awards when compared to the numbers engraved in the plaques on the wall behind him. The common denominator in all of his cases, Satin says, is his conviction that he is upholding the law, and that he believes in the cause for which he’s fighting.
“I think one of my better traits is my belief in what we do and my passion for it,” he says. “I try to present things to people in a way that will convince them because I’m convinced of it.”
Family Law Man
Satin didn’t always envision himself standing before the SJC. He’s not one of those attorneys who can trace his legal lineage through generations of attorneys, or that guy who knew by the time he reaches grade school that law was the only thing for him.
“I think it’s really something that I wasn’t certain about,” he says of practicing law. “I’d love to tell you that I wanted to be a lawyer or a litigator from the time I was 3 years old, but it’s just not really the case.”
After graduating from the University of Vermont with a liberal arts focus, Satin’s knack for language and his reputation as a “people person” led him to Suffolk University Law School , he says. From there, he began a clerkship at Lubin & Meyer in the summer of 1994 and returned the following summer to again resume the full-time position.
In 1996, Satin graduated from Suffolk and left the city that had become his home during law school to venture west to Springfield and join the firm of Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas. Though Satin was originally interested in putting his experience to use as a medical-malpractice attorney, what the firm needed was an associate in the domestic relations practice, he recalls.
Under the mentorship of partner Peter Roth, Satin honed his litigation skills and learned the importance of written persuasion, as his work was thoroughly scrutinized by the senior attorney.
“That made it an incredible experience for me,” Stain says of his stint with the firm.
However, after three years of practicing in the domestic relations arena, Satin worried about getting pigeonholed into such a specialized area of the law. Being single in his late-20s and living in a college town also made the Swampscott native itch to move back to the city, he admits.
“Even when I would get a terrific result for a client, there’s not a feeling that you’ve really won,” says Satin, who adds that the emotional issues entangled with the financial elements of divorce cases can really wear on attorneys.
When a law school friend called out of the blue to tell him of an opening at Lubin & Meyer, Satin initially forwarded the information to a friend of his. But upon some prodding from that very friend, Satin decided to interview for the position himself. Within days he was back at his old stomping grounds.
M.D. To Go With That J.D.
Asked what his first trial was like as a practicing attorney at Lubin & Meyer, Satin says it’s the first deposition of a defendant doctor that sticks in his mind more than a courtroom experience.
It was then that the young lawyer realized himself an underdog, positioned to go up against someone with vast medical knowledge and the ability to evade questions or explain away medical mishaps as commonplace.
But what might have at first seemed like a scene reminiscent of “Rocky” — tops among this film buff’s list of favorite underdog movies — has since transformed into a level playing field.
But Satin again shrugs off this feat, saying, “I wouldn’t suggest for a second that I have the medical knowledge of a doctor.”
Beyond the technical terminology, however, is the real person who has been harmed by negligence and needs the assistance of Satin and his colleagues. “You see people who have been dealt a very difficult hand,” the attorney notes.
Recognizing the incredible resolve of people with disabilities, Satin says his clients just go on living. But, as an attorney, Satin feels he can lessen the challenges that person might face in life.
“When we can get a very good result for someone, it just makes their life easier,” he says. This year alone, Satin helped garner more than $8 million in settlements from only four cases, some of which involved catastrophic brain injuries to children.
Dismissing the complaints of tort reformists who argue that inflated jury verdicts in medical-malpractice cases are creating a crisis in the insurance industry, Satin says any plaintiffs’ lawyer worth his salt knows that it doesn’t pay to take on a bad case hoping for a settlement.
“These are very real damages that people suffer needlessly, and they’re entitled to their day in court,” Satin adds.
Satin had his own day in court when he successfully argued two significant appeals — one in front of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; the other before the SJC. For Satin, these are recalled as both the most difficult cases of his career to date, but also the most rewarding.
In the former case, Taft v. United States of America, Satin was appealing a decision by U.S. District Court Chief Judge William G. Young, in which Young ruled in favor of the government, denying a mother’s claim on behalf of her minor son that her obstetrician’s failure to meet the requisite standard of care resulted in the son’s sustaining Erb’s Palsy — a nerve injury of the arm that can cause complete paralysis of the limb.
Though Young had valued the case at $250,000, he didn’t award it at the trial level, finding the doctor was not responsible for informing the mother of her option to have a C-section when he realized the child’s size might create a problematic vaginal delivery — this despite the fact that the mother had a previous child with Erb’s Palsy.
Providing a detailed analysis of the law of informed consent, Satin argued that the doctor should have provided his patient with information about her option to have a C-section.
“It is the mother and the child who live with the consequences of that decision,” Satin emphasizes.
Ultimately, the 1st Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the case to Young, who found in favor of the mother and awarded $250,000 in damages — a meager award compared to some of the other awards Satin has garnered. But this case was less about a dollar amount, says the attorney, than it was about proving a judge had erred and about being “vanguard” to uphold and protect the law.
Satin’s case before the SJC, Dias v. Brigham Medical Associates, Inc., involved a medical-malpractice action against a doctor and his medical practice group on the grounds of vicarious liability. Through the case against the doctor was allowed, BMA was granted summary judgment by Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy Jr. The judge ruled that to hold BMA vicariously liable for one of its doctor’s negligence, the plaintiff would have to prove that the corporation exercised control over the doctor’s treatment decisions. That portion of the case was transferred to the SJC on its own initiative for further review.
On appeal, Satin contended that the medial group was responsible for the actions of its doctor, who the plaintiff claimed was negligent in failing to assess the status of a fetus after the mother was involved in a car accident when she was eight months pregnangt. That negligence, Satin claimed, resulted in the still birth of the plaintiff’s son.
Peppered with questions from the SJC judges, Satin remained poised and supported his argument that the law of agency states that once you’ve shown a person is acting in the scope of his employment, you’ve proven that the employer is vicariously liable, regardless of its ability to control the doctor’s actions. To say anything else, Satin contends, would create an exception for doctors.
The SJC agreed, vacating the lower court’s decision and issuing an opinion that Satin says has set precendent and clarified some gray areas on vicarious liability.
“I think it’s a significant case,” he notes. “I think it has a tremendous effect on … this practice and many other people’s practices.”
With two appellate victories under his belt, along with a string of settlements that have made for a banner year, Satin says he’s looking forward to honing his skills through more trial work in the future.
“The more I do it, the better I get at it," Satin says.
In the words of Michelangelo, the humble attorney adds: “I am still learning.”
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