Dr. Bradley I. Kramer sides with patients in med-mal cases
Published in 2021 Southern California Super Lawyers magazine
on January 21, 2021
Updated on January 22, 2021
Bradley I. Kramer, a medical malpractice plaintiff’s attorney, wants you to know he has the utmost respect for the people he sues. “It doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy going after doctors who spend their whole lives trying to help people,” he says. “But as in any field, there’s going to be good and bad.”
Kramer’s father is even a doctor—“still practicing at 78 years old,” he says—and it doesn’t hit closer to home than that. Except with Kramer, who was once a doctor himself. He is that rare M.D. J.D.
Because of the family connection, he says, “I kind of just fell into medicine.” But during his third-year clinical rotations at med school, he realized it wasn’t for him.
“If you don’t really have your heart in medicine, it’s a little bit different than any other career, because you literally have people’s lives in your hands,” he says. Even so, he finished med school and residency, then took the LSAT on a whim. He figured having both a medical degree and a law degree couldn’t be bad. He remembers thinking: “Hopefully, I can put them together and use them for something productive.”
Which is what he did during his second and third summers at law school, working at a big LA medical malpractice firm on the defense side. There was just one problem.
“Those defense firms are all paid by insurance companies and that wasn’t who I really wanted to represent,” he says. “Doctors have tons of lawyers jumping at the chance to represent them. Plaintiffs, they have a really hard time finding counsel.”
Kramer’s first three jobs out of law school were not health related, however. He was handling entertainment, real estate, bankruptcy and general commercial law cases. They weren’t the best fit. So in 2009, he decided to hang his own shingle; the medical degree began paying off in the form of referrals.
“It would have been very hard for me to sell myself or to use my medical background to say, ‘Hey, I’m a real estate litigator’; but when you say to someone—like another plaintiff attorney who does slip-and-falls, or dog bites, or car crashes—‘Hey, I’m a doctor. I do medical malpractice,’ their ears perk up,” he says. “That’s kind of what identifies me.”
For the first half year, while he was building up his med-mal practice, he built a side practice as a cannabis doctor. This was when only medical marijuana was legal in California. “The difference between me and a lot of the people who were doing it at the time,” he says, “is I actually wouldn’t just rubber-stamp every application and say, ‘Yes, you get cannabis; yes, you get cannabis.’”
Even after he no longer needed the extra cash infusion, the medical degree kept working for him. Med-mal attorneys typically spend thousands of dollars up front on experts to scrutinize doctors’ records—before they even know if they’ve got a good case—but Kramer is able to read most of those documents himself. That allows him to take cases others turn down.
“I get a ton of phone calls from people who say, ‘I’ve talked to five, 10, 20 attorneys, and no one will take my case,’” he says. “Most of the time, they actually don’t have a case, but there are a bunch of incidents [where] I look at it and say, ‘Actually, there is a case here.’ And we get them quite a bit of money.”
In one, a young woman who was having a stroke went to the emergency room and was misdiagnosed, Kramer says, because she didn’t fit the textbook norms for a stroke victim. The doctor diagnosed her with another condition, which she had only read about, and the client ended up with severe learning disabilities and emotional issues. “My questions when I deposed [the doctor],” Kramer says, “were: ‘Have you or anyone you’ve ever known in your lifetime actually seen a patient with this condition?’ She said no.” They settled for seven figures.
Those up-front fees would be less risky for attorneys if it weren’t for MICRA, California’s 1975 law that capped pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice suits at $250,000—a figure that has not changed in the decades since. Only lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses and future medical care—immaterial in cases involving loss of life—are uncapped. “The only thing that gets capped in med-mal cases is pain and suffering,” Kramer says. “That’s a huge component of these cases.”
A ballot initiative was planned for this fall to adjust the MICRA cap for inflation, but proponents—expecting a barrage of insurance industry ads aimed at defeating the initiative—decided that the middle of a pandemic was a bad time to put it before the public.
“It’s a really uphill battle to convince the greater community that this is a good thing,” Kramer says. “Most people don’t like plaintiff attorneys until they need one. Then they say, ‘Well, what do you mean? Why can I only get $250,000?’ … When you talk about losing a loved one, whether it’s a kid, a teenager, or a grandfather, it’s just an incomprehensibly small amount of compensation for that life.”
Initiative supporters plan to try again on the 2022 ballot. In the meantime, Kramer keeps at it. “To get these doctors and these facilities, like hospitals, to understand that small errors in judgment can really have massive ramifications on not only the individuals but their whole family—that’s something that I strive to do in every case,” he says.
He brings up the Sept. 6 ejection of tennis champion Novak Djokovic from the U.S. Open after he accidentally struck a line umpire in the throat with a ball that was hit “dangerously or recklessly” or “with negligent disregard of the consequences,” according to the U.S. Tennis Association’s statement. “It took him two seconds to just make a stupid decision that lost him the U.S. Open, and it’s exactly the same with doctors—it takes them two seconds to overlook a chart, a lab test,” Kramer says.
He pauses. “It’s not that the mistake happened—because people make mistakes. … It’s the issue of taking responsibility for those mistakes. That’s really my role here.”
Fighting Monster Dot-Coms
As if being a lawyer and a doctor weren’t enough for one lifetime, Kramer once started an internet company. Between his second and third law firm gigs, he launched Prosumés, a tool to enable firms to hire professionals without paying exorbitant recruiting fees.
“It was meant to compete with the monster dot-coms of the world, but catering to a very elite audience of lawyers, doctors, MBAs,” says Kramer. “We had, I think, 60-some of the Am Law 200 firms signed up to use the portal.”
Unfortunately, the site launched just as the 2008 global financial meltdown hit. Instead of hiring, “law firms were firing people left and right,” he says. He ended up shuttering the site.
“It was great in theory, but in practice—at the time at least—it wasn’t viable,” he says. “I wonder what would happen if I used it today?”