Abnormal Interviews: Law Professor J. Stanley McQuade

Today, Abnormal Use continues its series, “Abnormal Interviews,” in which this site will conduct brief interviews with law professors, practitioners and other commentators in the field. For the latest installment, we turn to law professor J. Stanley McQuade of the Campbell University School of Law in Raleigh, North Carolina. McQuade, a certified anesthesiologist, teaches courses on law and its interaction with medicine. The interview is as follows:

1.  What rule or concept in modern products liability jurisprudence do you believe is the most outdated, and why?

The two notions that I consider most outdated are strict liability and comparative fault. Taking them in order:

Strict liability is properly defined as liability without proof of a defendant’s fault and that due care by that defendant is irrelevant. This is already part of the law in many areas and [there is] nothing radical about it. What seems to me new is the term “strict liability” taken as a cause of action in itself. I think it is very misleading to jurors, and perhaps even to lawyers, suggesting some kind of liability without fault where they can let their imaginations run ahead of their judgment and find for a badly injured plaintiff willy nilly without locating the liability in any other recognized area of law like negligence or warranty, et cetera. The idea of liability without fault works well enough in manufacturing defect cases where the defect speaks for itself, but it is not needed here and does not apply in design or warnings defect cases which are generally admitted to be essentially based on fault. Throwing in the term strict liability only confuses things. I notice that neither the Model Uniform Product Liability Act (MUPLA) nor the Restatement of the Law (3d) of Torts—Products Liability use the term “strict liability.” I would therefore urge the North Carolina legislature to continue to ban that term.

With regard to comparative fault, I agree with the justice in the California Supreme Court case who commented that asking a jury to assign fault in a degree somewhere between “0” and “100 percent” was asking too much. I also consider modified comparative liability defective since, besides asking juries to assign large degrees of fault, it also asks them to consider the effect of their decision, i.e. that if fault exceeds 50 percent the plaintiff gets nothing (and the jury must be apprised of this rule). Psychologists tell us, and the good justice agrees, that people can only decide between 3-5 alternatives at the most. Applied to comparative fault, this suggests that the jury should first be asked to decide if the plaintiff should get the first alternatives, everything or nothing. If this cannot be done, they should be allowed to determine whether the plaintiff was 25 percent, 50 percent or 75 percent at fault. This they could manage, and split decisions could be rendered unanimous by the usual methods.

2.  You are a certified anesthesiologist.  What medical issues do you believe that lawyers misunderstand the most in their cases, and why?

The standard of care. This is, of course, what a reasonable practitioner in the same specialty and the same circumstances would  consider reasonable to expect of a doctor. What is sometimes overlooked here is that medical diagnosis and treatment have become so sophisticated and complicated that it is difficult for even specialists to keep up with things, and it becomes easier and easier to make a mistake. The standard of care is established by testimony of a physician, and physicians placed in this situation suddenly become very judicial and exacting (to show how professional they are).  I think that the standard of care (and breach of it) might better be established by a small panel consisting of a judge, a defense lawyer and a plaintiff’s lawyer (and no doctor) with the right of the plaintiff or defendant to ask for a second opinion. I realize that this is  a somewhat controversial opinion, but I would rather trust my reputation to informed lay persons such as lawyers than to medical opinion.

3.  What is the most important thing lawyers should keep in mind when reviewing medical records?

Adopt a methodical approach (see my manual on this subject – learn how a medical record is put together and what you expect to learn from each part of it) deciding first 1/ Why was the patient seeing a doctor or entering a hospital? 2/ What went wrong? 3/ What steps were taken when the wrong turn occurred? 4/ What is the resulting damage and disability?

BIOGRAPHY: A certified anesthesiologist, Stanley McQuade lectures on the topics of law and medicine. He received his law degree with top honors from The Queens University of Belfast in 1950. Thereafter he received BD, BA, PhD, and MD degrees from the same university, as well as a Masters degree in Theology from Union Theological Seminary. He has also served for 25 years as a Methodist minister and has published several works in the areas of law and medicine and jurisprudence.. He is also Medical Editor for Westnet’s ten-volume Attorney’s Medical Advisor and Atlas.

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