My readers know that I don’t usually broadcast the financial details of litigation, but, bear with me in this case. This medical malpractice lawsuit returned a verdict of $10 million for a 32-year old man. The 2002 lawsuit, filed against the doctor, the hospital and nursing staff, resulted from a hospitalization to repair a malfunctioning heart valve.
As a result of the surgery, the man required another operation to repair stitches. Then, yet another surgery was performed to implant an artificial valve. The patient developed gangrene from being on Heparin for so long. This, apparently, caused an immunological condition that resulted in the gangrene. Heparin (an IV blood thinner), has been a controversial drug in the medical and legal communities.
Since gangrene causes tissue decay and death, the patient had to have all of his fingers, all the toes on his right foot and his left leg amputated above the knee. In the three months that he was hospitalized, initially, for a simple heart valve repair, he wound up being a multiple amputee.
The lawsuit alleged that the medical staff failed to properly monitor the patient while he was on Heparin, knowing it could cause a reaction. The hospital argued that it did the best job it could under the circumstances and that what happened to the patient was a fluke accident. They argued that they saved his life.
The court and the jury did not agree; the $10 million verdict was split, 50/50, between the doctors at the hospital and the hospital. The hospital promised an appeal; the doctors settled out of court.
Here’s the twist: The state in which the verdict was returned has implemented tort reform. Luckily, for this patient, reform came after his case was filed and did not apply to his verdict. If it had, his recovery would have been limited to $250,000. Is that enough for all of your fingers, half your toes and a leg? What do you think?
Imagine going to the hospital expecting to have a heart valve fixed and eventually losing all your fingers, your left leg from above the knee and all the toes on your right foot. Imagine the anguish and despair the patient experienced and the huge medical bills and rehabilitation he must endure.
Today, President Obama convened a bi-partisan summit on health care reform at Blair House. After an initial opening statement of welcome, he turned the proceeding over to the Republicans. The "lead" position was offered to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander. Alexander suggested that we "throw out" the current bill and "start over". He said he had no comprehensive alternative, only a six step outline of suggestions. His third step was, and I quote:
"…put an end to junk lawsuits (empasis added) against doctors. In our state half the counties, pregnant women have to drive to the big city to have prenatal health care or to have their baby because the medical malpractice suits have driven up the insurance policies so high that doctors leave the rural counties."
I am not a politician. I don’t have a broad range of knowledge on political issues. If a politician says something, I will, typically, give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Al Gore, for instance, makes a good case that the world should be concerned about global warming. I presume he knows more than I do about the subject. However, I do know a little something about medical malpractice. The solution to "junk lawsuits" as put forth by the "tort reformers" is to institute a damages cap on recovery. In the case of our unfortunate multiple amputee, that limit would have been $250,000. Would that be enough compensation for such a disabling, disfiguring result? Isn’t $10,000,000 more reasonable for a 32 year-old to deal with such horrible, disfiguring injuries for the rest of his life?
Medical malpractice is not a significant contributor to the cost of health care. The cost has been estimated at less than 2%. Further, it is not "junk" that the congressional supporters of tort reform seek to limit. They seek to cap the results in serious lawsuits. Why? Because Insurance companies, big tobacco, big pharma and the US Chamber (national big business lobby) are their biggest contributors. They are not seeking to lower the cost of health care; they are seeking to preserve and increase the profits of insurance companies and big business. In the process, if they have their way, you will no longer be able to hold wrongdoers accountable, and that will make all of us less safe. If medical malpractice suits have driven up the cost of insurance in Tennessee, as Senator Alexander says, shouldn’t we be trying to improve the quality of care given by doctors and hospitals? Shouldn’t we be holding the doctors more accountable? Or, should we follow Senator Alexander’s example and penalize their victims a second time? Would you care if the doctors who treated the unfortunate patient at the center of this narrative left your state? Would you want them to treat you?
Lawsuit Financial, the pro-justice lawsuit funding company, urges you (especially those of you in Tennessee) to write to your Senators and Congressmen. Tell them that tort reform has no place in health care reform. And tell those who support restrictions on serious litigation by referring to it as "junk" to stop lying to the American people.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.