We profiled medical malpractice attorney Rebecca Ringer, of Seattle’s Floyd, Pflueger & Ringer, in the 2011 Washington Super Lawyers & Rising Stars issue. Ringer is known for her winning ways in the courtroom representing health care providers. In the story you can read about her journey from tiny Quinter, Kan. to a post as past-president of the Washington chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates.
What was your scariest experience in the courtroom?
I was trying a case: The primary care doctor [I was representing] had seen a youngish woman several times in a row for a headache and not obtained a [CAT Scan]. The family finally decided, “We want you to go see this other doctor.” He gets a CT. Turns out she has a disease called Moyamoya. Moyamoya is the Japanese name for “puff of smoke.” Instead of having nice big vessels carrying blood here and there, the big ones have shut down, and there are only small fragile vessels-they’re easily broken.
Those looked like dangerous facts to me: My doctor had seen her several times, not gotten a CT. Another doctor sees her-gets a CT first visit, gets a diagnosis. And she’s having a series of strokes that leave her brain-damaged. But we didn’t think that the time of the diagnosis was the cause, and we went to trial over that.
The jury found that my client was negligent-but not the proximate cause-causation is different from negligence. But that’s a really long space between hearing the jury verdicts being read:
Question number one: “Was the doctor defendant negligent?”
Question number two: “Was the doctor defendant’s negligence proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury?
That was a good result-several million that didn’t get paid.
How do you convince a jury?
My husband’s watched a bunch of my trials. He thinks that I put myself almost in the role of one of the jurors. I’m not medically trained. I’ve learned a lot in 27 years, but I’m not medically trained, so if an expert can’t explain it to me, I certainly don’t want to put that person on a trial because they’re not going to be able to explain it to jurors either. I’m a pretty good litmus test, I think.
And yet, you only became a med mal attorney because the Legal Aid Society in New York City didn’t offer you a job?
I was 23 years old and I just didn’t get hired as a public defender! So I started looking for a job and I got hired at a firm that did medical malpractice defense work, and darned if it wasn’t interesting. I think it’s fascinating. When I learn about a new disease, I diagnose somebody with it, whether it’s one of my kids or my husband. I know this much about medicine and can cause this much trouble with it.