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VOL. 37 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 12, 2013

Doctor finds way to avoid trouble – admit mistake

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Something happened recently that cries out for a column. I got an email from a friend with a link to a “health column” in a ski resort town newspaper somewhere in these United States. The column’s author was a doctor with a clinic in the ski village.

The column started, “Stem cell therapy is minimally invasive” or words to that effect. It went on to state something like “Noteworthy athletes who’ve had it include Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning.”

Then it said that in a recent “article … Vic Fleming, a judge from Little Rock, has documented his success with a stem cell procedure.” There followed a quotation from my column earlier this year in which I updated the world on my platelet-rich plasma injection of two years ago.

The health column ended with a note that the writer offers stem cell therapy in his clinic. So, where’s the beef? How can I complain about being written up with Peyton and Kobe?!

Since the column touted the business of the doctor who wrote it, I felt that, at a minimum, it would have been appropriate to get my permission before using my name and quoting me. A casual reader might infer that the column’s author had treated me and that, through my “article,” I was endorsing his practice.

Also, while stem cells are in PRP, I don’t think of my injection as stem cell therapy.

After sleeping on it, I called the doc in the ski village, leaving a message on his voice mail. My call was returned in short order.

In a low-key manner, I told the doc that while Kobe, Peyton and I would make a formidable three-on-three basketball or football team, I believed that he should have asked my permission before running that column.

I was hardly prepared for his response.

“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I screwed up. I take full responsibility and I will either pull the column in full or pull the paragraph about you as soon as possible – whichever you want.”

We then had a nice chat. He’d recognized my name from the voice mail, reread his column and pulled up my column. He allowed as how his column had been mostly the work of a P.R. firm, but he’d approved it and thought my story had been as fully vetted as the stories about Kobe and Peyton – who, he said, had different procedures than me.

An hour later the paragraph about me was gone from the online version of the column. A few thousand hard copies are, presumably, now in recycle bins in and around the resort village. I marveled that a person against whom I’d stated a complaint had responded not with a defense but a concession and a full apology. How regrettable that this is so rare.

The matter fully settled, I boasted about it at lunch today with my lawyers, who immediately chastised me for not demanding a four-day weekend settlement conference in the ski village, with them and me present – at the doc’s P.R. firm’s expense. I made them pay for lunch.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.