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JAMA 100 Years Ago
August 20, 2003


JAMA. 2003;290(7):966. doi:10.1001/jama.290.7.966-a

In a damage case recently tried in a Colorado court it was brought out in the testimony that the attending physicians testifying for the plaintiff had a contract to accept as their fee a certain percentage of the award in case the suit was successful. The attorneys for the defendant corporation, naturally, made the most of this admission, holding that it was an agreement contrary to good policy and morals, while the physicians, on the other hand, claimed that the transaction was an innocent one; that, as the injured person was poor, she was allowed to contract to pay her bill in this way. There is something to be said on this side, and it does not necessarily follow that the chance of a contingent fee should influence the testimony as to the fact of the physicians. Indeed, we believe it would not, but the whole business has a dubious appearance, and the average layman is apt to put on it the very worst construction. The physician who makes such a contract is put before the public as a promoter of litigation, a sort of medical champertor, by the opposing parties if it comes before the jury, and must suffer all the prejudice that can be thus aroused. While contingent fees are undoubtedly common enough with the legal profession, they certainly are not in the medical, and it would be more in accord with the spirit of the principles of medical ethics to take the chances of losing a fee rather than those of subjecting oneself to the possible interpretations of the other course. There are occasions when one may be too business-like, and this is one of them.