A malpractice courtroom drama that manages to be both bumptious and philosophical.
At first blink, readers may be wary of Dr. Joseph Charles’s so obviously trying to drag them into his corner: “You’ve probably assumed from seeing the man in the wheelchair at the plaintiff’s table. . . .” Red flags shoot up. But soon enough Dr Charles reveals himself to be your standard model, a flawed and foibled human being, defensive and self-doubting, confident and an admitted “idiot,” happy to note that a colleague looks like “Fred Flintstone giving an impression of Clint Eastwood getting a rectal exam.” Which is not to say that Charles, in the hands of author Spitalnic (himself a practicing physician), is allowed many weaknesses as a doctor: messy, rushed charts are about as far as Spitalnic will go in criticizing his medical character. Charles, after all, has to be able to stand foursquare as he explains all the injustices in malpractice law: its arbitrariness, its waste of time and money, the absurdity of its staginess: the way defendants must wear just the right clothing and must “feign a concerned interest” at all times. As the courtroom days pile up, with occasional flashbacks that increase our professional and personal interest in the characters, Spitalnic manages to make a fine hash out of the testimony of expert witnesses—some readers will wonder why they’re even used after seeing how they’re countered by teams of lawyers—and tenders an eye-opening account of the way big insurance underwriters approach these cases: in order to get insurance, as the adjuster explains it to Charles, “you give up the right to protect your reputation. This is about money now. How much if we lose, how much to make it go away, what’s the chance we can keep it in our pockets.”
A tight and captivating story: this is very likely how it would feel to be in Charles’s uncomfortable shoes.