"I WANT MY STORY TOLD": AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF MALPRACTICE PLAINTIFFS' DISCOURSE (SUIT-PRONE, LITIGIOUS, LAWSUIT)
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
This research presents propositonal patterns of discourse used by plaintiffs in constructing meaningful accounts of their malpractice lawsuits. The United States of America is the only country where large numbers of medical malpractice lawsuits are filed each year. Defense attorneys and health care providers blame patients for the high incidence of malpractice. Given this stereotype of the "suit-prone" patient, it is no wonder that plaintiffs' accounts have been neglected. The purpose of this study is to understand how plaintiffs view the circumstances that led them to sue, and to contribute to our understanding of medical malpractice litigation by documenting information from the consumers' point of view. It is, after all, patients who contact lawyers, and we need to know why they pursue litigation. Excerpts from interview texts answer such questions as: How do plaintiffs explain their choice and use of medical and legal resources? What sociocultural factors influenced plaintiffs' decisions to pursue medical malpractice litigation? This research consists of qualitative data collected through extensive interviews with fifty-two plaintiffs, mostly residents of Texas. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed and analyzed by manual and computer-based processing of verbal data. The study uses methods of discourse analysis derived from anthropology, linguistics, sociology and psychology. Study results indicate that research subjects did not view themselves as "typical" suit-prone individuals. A recurrent theme found in narratives was the quest for information about what had caused the disasters that eventually catapulted them into litigation. The litigation process was a means of making sense of their experiences. During litigation, plaintiffs often learned that defendant care-givers were named in multiple lawsuits and were involved in falsifying medical records. They also encountered such issues as the "conspiracy of silence" that sometimes confounded their quest for expert testimony. Plaintiffs also expressed hope that their lawsuits would prevent damage from occurring to someone else. Justice, altruism, meaning, and retribution, in varying propositions, are the leitmotifs of plaintiff accounts. Only the latter has any connection with the stereotype of "suit-proneness."