More than One Agenda Behind Rep. Gingrey’s Med Mal Legislation

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) has captured the attention of the national media for his sponsorship of legislation that would severely restrict medical malpractice awards. The media’s focus has not been on any aspect of the bills Gingrey has sponsored but rather on the fact that Gingrey himself settled a medical malpractice lawsuit in 2007 for $500,000. Before Rep. Gingrey was elected to Congress in 2002, he was a practicing obstetrician for three decades. In fact, the 2007 medical malpractice settlement wasn’t the first time he had faced a malpractice lawsuit. According to the NY Times article, Gingrey had testified in a pre-trial deposition that he had been sued for malpractice on three previous occasions resulting in a jury verdict against him, a financial settlement, and one case that was dropped.

In discussing his proposal to restrict medical malpractice claims, Rep. Gingrey often refers to such cases as “frivolous”. The NY Times described the 2007 case this way:
“The $500,000 settlement involving Dr. Gingrey arose from a case filed in 2002. At that time, a Georgia couple, Kimberly D. Walker and Scott M. Walker, sued him, two other obstetricians, a Georgia hospital and two surgeons. Among other things, the lawsuit charged that the doctors had failed to properly diagnose that Mrs. Walker, who was experiencing severe abdominal pains, nausea and other problems, was suffering from acute appendicitis.

When Mrs. Walker’s appendix burst, it caused a huge infection that led to the loss of her 15-week-old fetus. She also developed respiratory distress, and after a month on a mechanical ventilator, suffered a stroke that left her partially disabled, court papers state.”

The bill sponsored by Rep. Gingrey would limit pain and suffering damages to $250,000, restrict fees paid to lawyers representing injured patients, and bar punitive damages in cases where patients are injured by medical devices and pharmaceutical drugs. Of course, those who favor this legislation know that such proposals would severely restrict patients’ access to justice in a civil court. That is the end goal of such legislation and its bad for all of us, especially those who are concerned with patient safety.

The irony of a doctor who has been sued for medical malpractice on more than one occasion has not been lost on the national media. Here are some headlines: “Gingrey Faced the Kind of Malpractice Suits He Now Hopes to Limit” (Atlanta Journal Constitution), “Malpractice Bill Raises Issues about a Lawsuit” (NY Times), and “Malpractice Bill Sponsor Target of Many Suits Himself” (Mother Jones).

Let’s hope members of Congress recognize the same irony and reject such anti-consumer legislation.