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Dallas Attorney Gains National Reputation

From The Dallas Morning News December 27, 1996
By Ed Housewright


Les Weisbrod gains national reputation for winning medical malpractice lawsuits

Les Weisbrod isn't shy about showing his success. Visitors to his North Dallas law office learn that in a hurry.


On one wall are nearly two dozen brass reproductions of checks with proven results. The checks, of which Mr. Weisbrod gets up to half, are the fruits of his labor as one of the top medical malpractice lawyers in the state.


Earlier this month, he won another million-dollar settlement -- this involving a 14-year-old Waxahachie youth who died after a heart condition was misdiagnosed.


That victory brought to almost 60 the number of settlements or jury verdicts he's won in Click here for a list of proven results. He's so proud of his record that he lists the results in a two-page Yellow Pages ad.


"I make a lot of money," said Mr. Weisbrod, 43, who declined to say how much he earns. "I think that's because I'm really good at what I do."


Friends and foes alike agree. They say he's tenacious, has an uncanny grasp of medical complexities and shrewdly picks winning lawsuits.


Doctors view him with "disdain and disgust," said Dr. Luis Leib, a former president of the Dallas County Medical Society. "He can devastate a physician and have that physician lose all self-esteem. He's like a shark."


Mr. Weisbrod is not much more popular with some defense attorneys who represent doctors and hospitals.


"He's as aggressive as the devil," said one defense lawyer, who asked not to be identified. "He fights you about everything. He squeezes every nickel out of a lawsuit that he can. He never thinks he gets enough even when he gets more than enough."


Michael Rustad, a law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, recently did a study of punitive damage awards and found that Mr. Weisbrod has won more punitive damage awards than anyone in the country.


"He won some of the largest verdicts in my study and some of the more important ones," said Mr. Rustad. "I would say he's gaining a national reputation."


Mr. Weisbrod, a Southern Methodist University law school graduate and former president of the Dallas Trial Lawyers Association, says he views himself as a "prosecutor of bad doctors and a watchdog for the public."


"I have a lot of doctors who are very good friends of mine," Mr. Weisbrod said. "I've said many times I probably have more respect for a good doctor than anything on Earth. And I think 95 percent of doctors are great.


"But there's 5 percent of them that are really bad. Most of the time doctors who have committed malpractice are incredibly arrogant. So it's a challenge, and it's gratifying to take somebody who's so arrogant that they think they can't get caught, that they're above the law, and bring them down to size."


Some people complain of a litigation explosion and frivolous lawsuits. But to Mr. Weisbrod, the problem isn't too many lawsuits -- it's too few.


"All the statistics show that only one out of four cases of actual malpractice are ever brought to the lawsuit stage because patients in three-fourths of cases never know the malpractice is committed on them," he said. "Doctors don't tell them, and they're not sophisticated enough to know."


That kind of talk rankles American Medical Association officials.


"The majority of cases should not be filed," said Dr. Donald Palmisano, a trustee of the AMA. "The cost of health care is rising because of the defense of professional liability claims. Some of the awards are absolutely ridiculous.


"In some specialties, the cost of insurance has increased so dramatically that specialists in that field will either leave the area of practice or stop practicing at an earlier age."


Mr. Weisbrod doesn't believe that malpractice attorneys are responsible for rising health care costs, increased malpractice premiums or doctors leaving the field.


"All that kind of stuff is completely unfounded and unassociated with reality," he said.


Mr. Weisbrod has harsh words for tort reform. The 1995 Legislature passed a sweeping package of seven tort reform bills, that made it harder for people to file certain lawsuits- including medical malpractice suits- and to collect huge damage awards. In the 1997 session of the Legislature, business groups plan to seek additional limits on some kinds of personal injury suits. "New tort laws benefit only insurance companies, big business, and the medical establishment," Mr Weisbrod said.


"Tort reform is the will of the special interests," he said. "It's not the will of the people. It's taking away your rights."


Mr. Weisbrod has no trouble getting clients. He says his 15-member law firm receives about 2,000 inquiries a year from people who want representation. Of those, the firm accepts 50 cases.


Mr. Weisbrod is aided in evaluating cases by Dr. Mel Morgan, a doctor-lawyer who is his partner. The firm also has one other doctor-lawyer and one nurse-lawyer.


"You don't want to bring a case that's not a good case," Mr. Weisbrod said. "We don't want to put the doctors or the health care providers through an unnecessary or unjustified lawsuit.


"Secondly, with the expense involved and the fact that we work on a contingency basis, it's not economical to bring a case that's not one involving permanent, usually catastrophic, injury or death."


One of the cases he's handling involves Bob Holland of Dallas. In 1993, doctors did an MRI (a diagnostic imaging procedure that shows a cross section of the brain) after he complained of headaches. But he alleges that they didn't spot an aneurysm, and it ruptured months later, leaving him partially paralyzed on his left side.


"I can't do my job," Mr. Holland said during a session with Mr. Weisbrod in which they discussed an upcoming mediation session. "I have trouble putting my pants on. A lot of things are frustrating."


Mr. Holland said he wants to go to trial, but Mr. Weisbrod advised him that a settlement might be in his best interests. About 98 percent of Mr. Weisbrod's cases settle before going to trial, he said.


"It's always better for a client to settle a case than go to trial if there's a fair settlement being proposed because you don't have the stress and strain of the courthouse," Mr. Weisbrod said. "They get it over with. They have a sure thing. To put them through a trial is very difficult on them emotionally.