Medical malpractice attorney believes in the team approach

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

Three men. Three strokes of genius.

One was an auto pioneer, a man who revolutionized the manufacturing process and came to symbolize the brilliance of American economic ingenuity.

The other was a gifted storyteller, a true wordsmith whose classic prose continues to captivate generations of readers today, some 135 years after his literary works were published.

The third was perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, an incredibly gifted athlete who seemed to defy gravity each time he stepped out on the court.

Henry Ford. Mark Twain. Michael Jordan.

Good "friends" of Norm Tucker, a renowned medical malpractice attorney with Sommers Schwartz in Southfield.

To illustrate his legal points, Tucker deftly tosses out quotes from three of his favorite sources. While it would be pure folly to put Jordan on equal footing with two of history's greatest quote machines, one comment from his Air Ness resonates with Tucker, a man who grew up in the tiny village of Macon, Mich., site of Henry Ford's summer home.

"Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships," Jordan once said, most likely during the peak of a playing career that saw him claim seven NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls.

Teamwork has come to define the success that Tucker has experienced during a legal career that spans more than three decades. Yet for the all the professional acclaim he has received, Tucker knows he is indebted to others for much of his legal prowess.

"I haven't worked on a case alone in 30 years," Tucker said without hesitation.

"Every case we handle has at least two attorneys, a nurse, and a paralegal involved. I recognize my strengths and I acknowledge my limitations, which is why I rely so heavily on the knowledge and expertise of others. It's the only way to succeed in a legal area that has become increasingly difficult over the years."

Which is partly why Tucker pursues less than 5 percent of the cases that come his way.

"Ten years ago, we probably took one out of 10 cases; now it is one out of 25 or 30," said Tucker, who specializes in birth trauma cases.

"State Supreme Court rulings over the past decade and tort reform legislation have erected a number of barriers to filing legitimate medical and personal injury claims."

Which brings to mind Mark Twain, the pseudonym for the great American writer, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, author of such jewels as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and its sidekick "Huckleberry Finn."

Tucker is particularly fond of one pithy quote from Twain, whose musings on almost any subject have become literary gold.

"When in doubt, tell the truth."

It neatly intersects with another Twain comment that Tucker, a University of Michigan graduate who earned his law degree from the University of Detroit, undoubtedly keeps handy when he is preparing for one of his many speaking engagements.

"Always do right, this will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

Tucker - who was an All-State football player at Tecumseh High School - has done plenty of "right" over the course of his career, and he's squarely among the quoted.

It comes with the turf as the co-author of the two-volume set, "Handling Birth Trauma Cases," widely regarded as "definitive reference books" on the subject.

He teamed with attorney Stanley Schwartz on the legal treatises that effectively put their stamp on the complex world of birth related injuries.

His legal profile grew even more statewide in 2001-02 when he served as president of the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, now known as the Michigan Association for Justice.

Adding to his stature were a pair of honors from the State Bar of Michigan, the Michael Frank Award in 2002 for an "Attorney Making an Outstanding Contribution to the Profession" and the President's Choice Award the following year for his devotion to the "Access to Justice" program.

Tucker, now a resident of Brighton after spending 20 years living in Grosse Pointe, majored in history and American foreign policy at U-M, transferring there after his freshman year at Iowa State University, where he was on a football scholarship for the Cyclones.

He was talented enough to play wide receiver for the Wolverines, but he decided to stick to his studies, even after he tasted some gridiron success his first year as a collegian.

"I caught the winning touchdown pass against Missouri and got to play against Nebraska while I was at Iowa State, but I really came to appreciate how hard it is to juggle academics and athletics in a Division 1 program," Tucker said.

"I remember well waking up in the library a number of times when my head hit the books while I was supposedly studying. I was constantly exhausted."

His interest in the law was piqued at U-M while reading a book by Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen, a lawyer who was hailed by JFK as his "intellectual bloodbank."

After graduating from U-M in 1968, Tucker enrolled in the University of Detroit School of Law, attending full time his first year of the program.

"Then I ran short of something called 'money,'" Tucker quipped, forcing him to seek a position teaching American history to honor students at Dearborn Divine Child High School.

The following year, Tucker began clerking for a Detroit area firm, whetting his appetite for a career in medical malpractice work while he completed his law school education.

"The mix of the law and medicine is something that I've always liked," Tucker said, even though he has been "frustrated" by the political winds that have buffeted the medical malpractice arena over the years.

He regularly expresses his views during various legal presentations, including an annual appearance at the Michigan Association for Justice "People's Law School" in Lansing each fall.

He outlined the "state of the matter" during a program several years ago. It was aptly titled, "Medical Malpractice in Michigan - The Law, The Politics, and The Practice."

"In 1996, drug companies were given virtual immunity and products liability legislation eliminated 95 percent of the cases that could be filed," Tucker said at the time.

The result, Tucker said, is that previously viable medical malpractice and personal injury cases have been short-circuited before "they even see the light of day" in Michigan.

Negligence, he noted, is not proven "merely because of an adverse result." Likewise, there is no cause of action simply because of "rude treatment, condition not cured; wrong diagnosis; or wrong treatment."

The need for expert testimony in medical malpractice cases - and the corresponding high cost - serves as another inhibiting factor, he said.

Those who can testify to the proper "standard of care" must be "identically trained" with the same level of experience as the defendant in question, in addition to being a "specialist" and "board certified."

Tucker said he typically calls upon at least two experts in each specialty area when he handles a case and that there are generally at least four specialists involved.

The cost can range from $2,000 to $5,000 per expert, meaning that after taking depositions from both sides the cost to "get to trial" can run in the "$75,000 to $130,000 range," he indicated.

"So for people to complain about 'frivolous lawsuits,' there is no such thing when there is that kind of money being invested in a case," Tucker said from his office in Southfield's Town Center complex.

"The history of medical malpractice in Michigan will prove that fact."

Published: Thu, Jan 13, 2011