Hospital-recommended lawyers: A conflict of interest?

Hospitals in Maryland refer malpractice lawyers to their patients, presuming any claims will be settled promptly, reported The Baltimore Sun. The hospitals chooses from their lists of lawyers who will accept patient cases for reduced fees, a referral system that could benefit injured patients and their families by helping them avoid continuing litigation costs.

However, skeptics claim the referrals have an inherent conflict of interest, noted the Sun. Hospital-recommended lawyers may be less inclined to advocate for patients' best interests and instead try to keep the hospital happy to ensure future referrals.

"I mean, how could a hospital essentially say to a patient, 'Go to a lawyer we recommend and they'll give you a discount'? That reeks of a conflict," Jay Miller, a Baltimore County personal injury attorney told the Sun.

However, other legal experts don't see any problems with a possible defendant (hospital) recommending a lawyer to the likely plaintiff (patient). "Just because it's a hospital referring him, [the lawyer] is not going to give the hospital a break," said T. Christine Pham, a Baltimore attorney and chair of the state bar association's ethics committee.

MedStar Health refers lawyers as part of a responsibility to do "what is right for our patients and their families," especially if the patient's injury and its financial consequences are substantial, the nonprofit healthcare organization said in a statement, according to the article. "To this end, we have identified a small number of very seasoned, highly respected lawyers in the community who have impeccable reputations for being fair and honest" and also are willing to accept lower rates.

University of Maryland Medical System names "well respected, well credentialed lawyers" to patients, if requested. But in the end, it's the patient who chooses whether to seek legal counsel and if so, from whom, system spokeswoman Mary Lynn Carver told the Sun.

For more information:
- read the Baltimore Sun article