Doctor Turned Congressman Has A History of Malpractice Cases

Here is an interesting story from the New York Times.

Malpractice Bill Raises Issues About a Lawsuit
Published: February 8, 2011

The lawmaker and retired obstetrician sponsoring a Congressional bill to sharply cut medical malpractice awards was involved in a $500,000 settlement of a malpractice lawsuit. The action was brought by a pregnant woman who charged that inappropriate care caused the loss of her fetus and other complications.

The money was paid in 2007 to settle a medical malpractice lawsuit brought against several doctors, including Representative Phil Gingrey, who worked for three decades as an obstetrician before he was elected to Congress in 2002.

Since then, the Georgia Republican has introduced earlier versions of the bill and has been among the leading Congressional advocates of efforts to limit malpractice awards, arguing that such cases are often frivolous.

The settlement of the lawsuit, which had been reinstated after being initially dismissed at trial, occurred not long before a second trial was scheduled to begin. The lawsuit claimed, among other things, that Dr. Gingrey and two other obstetricians in his practice failed to properly diagnose the woman’s appendicitis.

Her appendix burst, leading to the loss of her fetus and other complications including a stroke, court papers show.

A spokeswoman for Dr. Gingrey, Brooke Sammon, said on Tuesday that the lawmaker was not available for comment.

In response to written questions, his office issued a statement that read, “All parties in the case agreed to settle due to various factors, including the cost, time commitment and stress of another trial, along with the desire by all parties to have final closure on this case.” The statement added that Dr. Gingrey “strongly believes he and his partners practiced fully within the standard of care and no causation on his part was ever established in this case.”

Dr. Gingrey was not the only obstetrician to treat the woman after she was hospitalized in 2001 for symptoms, including intense abdominal pain. The case included an accusation by the woman’s husband that Dr. Gingrey, contrary to hospital records, had not checked on his wife for several hours while he was on his shift; Dr. Gingrey insisted that he had.

The legislation being sponsored by Dr. Gingrey would, among other things, limit damages for pain and suffering in malpractice cases to $250,000, restrict fees paid to lawyers representing patients and create alternative means to lawsuits for resolving medical disputes.

The bill would also bar the awarding of punitive damages in cases brought against manufacturers of drugs, medical devices and other products that are approved, cleared or licensed for sale by the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Gingrey’s proposal is supported by medical groups, including the American Medical Association. Its opponents include the American Association for Justice, which represents plaintiffs’ lawyers.

In the statement, Dr. Gingrey’s office provided on Tuesday, he defended curbing damages under new legislation: “Too often our medical liability system benefits third parties over patients, allowing investors and law firms to reap huge percentages of rewards instead of the injured parties who need them most.”

President Obama again last month promised lawmakers that he was willing to work with Republicans to address medical malpractice reform. The administration has yet to put forward its proposal.

Obstetricians are more frequently sued for malpractice than many other types of doctors. A decision by a doctor or his or her insurer to settle a case does not mean that they did not care appropriately for a patient.

In a pretrial deposition, Dr. Gingrey testified that he had been sued at least three other times over malpractice during his long career. In one case, a jury found against him; in another case, there was a settlement; and in another case, the patient dropped the action, he testified.

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.

Robert U. Wright, one of the lawyers who represented the Walkers, said the hospital and surgeons had settled the claims against them for an undisclosed sum. However, Dr. Gingrey and two colleagues at the obstetrics practice where he worked had not settled, and the lawsuit against them went to trial in 2004.

After about a week of testimony by the plaintiffs, the judge issued a directed verdict dismissing the lawsuit against Dr. Gingrey and his colleagues. At that time, Dr. Gingrey, who had become a congressman two years earlier, spoke about the case.

“It was a major distraction from my Congressional responsibilities,” Dr. Gingrey was quoted by Roll Call, a newspaper, as saying at that time. “It is a great relief to be out from under that.”

However, in 2005, a Georgia appeals court ordered a retrial after holding that the trial judge had erred in entering the directed verdict. That court also said that there were disputed issues of fact that a jury could decide, including differing accounts by Dr. Gingrey and Mr. Walker about the treatment of Mrs. Walker.

The settlement involving Dr. Gingrey was made before a second trial was scheduled to start. The $500,000 was paid by an insurer, and it covered Dr. Gingrey, the two obstetricians associated with his practice and the practice itself.Here is an interesting story from the New York Times