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The trend of doctors refusing to treat patients who work for plaintiffs firms on the opposite side of their bid for caps on medical malpractice damages has allegedly hit Connecticut. A Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder paralegal, Janet Mitchell, claims she was denied medical treatment recently based on where she works. KK&B is among the most successful firms in the state at bringing malpractice suits against the medical profession. In an interview last week, Mitchell said Waterbury neurosurgeon Michael E. Karnasiewicz told her he would have to think about treating her after she told him who her employer was. DOCTORS DIVIDED The issue of doctors refusing to treat plaintiffs attorneys gained prominence last month when South Carolina doctor J. Chris Hawk, a delegate at the American Medical Association annual meeting in Chicago, proposed a resolution that — except in emergencies — would make it ethical to refuse care to plaintiffs attorneys and their spouses. The proposal died after being denounced by several AMA delegates during a heated debate. Mitchell was in pain from a herniated disk. Her primary physician recommended Karnasiewicz. During her first — and only — visit to the neurosurgeon’s office, she filled out a basic questionnaire detailing her background information. During the consultation, Karnasiewicz asked Mitchell some basic background questions, she said. “That’s when I told him,” where she worked, Mitchell said. “He did a basic examination and then told me he would have to give [the fact that she was a paralegal at KK&B] a lot of thought.” “Most doctors in the state know who Koskoff & Koskoff is,” Koskoff attorney Kathleen Nastri pointed out. Nastri is the immediate past president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, leading the fight against legislative efforts to impose caps on med mal damages. Karnasiewicz, licensed to practice medicine in Connecticut since 1975, did not return repeated telephone calls by press time. He practices at Neurosurgery Associates of Northwestern Connecticut in Waterbury. Officials there declined comment. It was the first time Mitchell’s work has become a factor in her medical treatment, she said. “My primary physician has treated me for years and it didn’t come up.” Still Karnasiewicz’s reaction didn’t surprise her, she said. “I was annoyed. My husband thought he was joking.” Karnasiewicz gave Mitchell some basic information, read her MRI film, explained her options to her, and said he would call the next day. Mitchell didn’t wait for the call. “She was in a tremendous amount of pain,” Nastri said. It had gotten so bad that she went to the emergency room. Nastri added, “He was not enthusiastic about addressing her problem. She needed somebody to take care of her.” Mitchell said she wasn’t convinced Karnasiewicz would have provided her with quality care. “I knew there was no way I was going to have him perform surgery on me,” she said. Instead, Mitchell went to a New Haven neurosurgeon for treatment. This time, “I didn’t tell him who I work for,” she said. Nastri mentioned that Mitchell doesn’t work for a medical malpractice attorney, but for Antonio Ponvert III, whose cases focus mostly on civil rights, class actions and prisoners’ rights. According to the Connecticut State Medical Society web site, Karnasiewicz has been successfully sued for malpractice once, in 1997. The case was resolved for an above average payment, according to the web site. No further information was available. Karnasiewicz’s reticence surprised Nastri because the doctor has done a lot of work with evaluating litigation claims in workers’ compensation and automobile accident cases. “As difficult as he is to work with, he’s fair,” she said. “People agree he is fair minded in terms of his evaluations. I was surprised Janet had any concerns about him.”

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