Another pro se plaintiff who has brightened my life as a medical malpractice defense attorney is a woman I’ll call “Frances.”
Frances brought her first claim a few years ago. Her lawsuit alleged various incidents of medical negligence, including one claim that she was spirited up to the roof of the hospital in question to have sexual relations with a physician, and possibly some space aliens. This had occurred around 1953.
Frances’s original complaint was handwritten, but she progressed to a computer. She described the events claimed to have caused her injuries like this: “When my daughter was born …” or “After my tonsillectomy when I was eight…” Frances was in her early sixties. After several attempts, she was persuaded to organize her complaint so that she described the years in which she thought the various medical events, acts and omissions had occurred. This took four court appearances and a flurry of motions. My secretary said that if she had to fill out another green slip needed for certified mail, she would shoot me with an assault rifle. I personally consumed several hundred thousand Reese’s peanut butter cups as a means of consolation.
Eventually, it became clear that none of the events described in Frances’s complaint, including the event involving the space aliens, had occurred after 1994. This was 2004. It seemed, even in my modest imaginings, that there might be a problem with the statute of limitations. So, I moved to strike the complaint.
Frances had an answer to this.
In court, she asserted that she could not have brought her claim any earlier because she had been undergoing therapy. In particular, Frances argued, her psychiatrist had regressed her to the point at which she was functioning as a 5-year-old. Once restored to adulthood, early in 2004, she had filed the lawsuit. The most creative attorneys I have ever confronted could not have concocted such a brilliant explanation.
Nevertheless, the court granted the motion to strike all 16 counts of Frances’s complaint. I had underestimated her perseverance. She brought the same action again. I moved to strike it a second time. By the time she filed the third action, the court offered some help. We had a pretrial, which was more like an intervention; the only person missing was my mother. The judge urged Frances to let go of the past, and utilize the energy she had channeled into writing motions on getting emotional help.
Eventually, the court dismissed the case.
We had not seen the last of Frances.
Undeterred, she visited the office of the risk manager one day, wearing her housedress and topknot. Frances demanded the $5 million she said the court awarded her. She was gently escorted to the exit by a handsome security guard.
Frances still thinks she was victorious. She sent me a letter recently, which asserted that “this long laboreous (sic) case has ended and the judge ruled in the Plaintiff’s favor. A win is a win and the fight has been won.”
I checked the court docket system online, to be sure I hadn’t missed anything. Sure enough, the case had been dismissed and judgment granted to my client in early 2005. Whew.
Frances cited a 10-year old dictionary definition of “demand note” to support her claim for $5 million. The acute irony was that she also wanted the hospital in question to provide her with free medical care for herself and her daughter for the rest of their lives. She had another request: that she be given a private room.
Frances and I may end our days as roommates, eating Thorazine lozenges and discussing our adventures in court. In the alternative, as the risk manager suggested, I will consider sending her a paint-by-numbers kit. Maybe she will learn to love art.
Amy F. Goodusky, a former paralegal, rock ‘n’ roll singer and horseback riding instructor, is of counsel at O’Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford.