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2004 Lawsuit Shows Rep. Phil Gingrey’s Willingness to Use Courts While Trying to Block Other Americans From Using Them

March 14, 2011 

2004 Lawsuit Shows Rep. Phil Gingrey’s Willingness to Use Courts While Trying to Block Other Americans From Using Them

Gingrey Sought Punitive Damages From Jury After Auto Crash but Wants to Block Patients From Going to Court When Hurt by Malpractice; Constituent, a Medical Malpractice Victim, Urges Him to Reverse Course

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) is trying to limit Americans’ access to the courts when they are hurt by medical malpractice, but Gingrey filed a lawsuit over injuries he suffered in 2004, Public Citizen said today. In the suit, which stemmed from a car crash, Gingrey sought damages for “mental pain” and punitive damages to be determined by “the enlightened conscience of fair and impartial jurors.”

In addition, Gingrey constituent Caroline Palmer sent a letter today urging him to reverse course on limiting patients’ rights. In 2007, Palmer’s arms were amputated as a result of medical errors committed by the hospital staff while they treated her for injuries from a car accident.

Gingrey, an obstetrician, is the original sponsor of the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act of 2011 (H.R. 5), which would allow for sweeping immunity from accountability for the health industry – including doctors, nursing home operators, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. The bill would impose a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages that compensate patients for the pain and suffering that accompany any loss of normal functions, such as blindness, paralysis, loss of sexual function, disfigurement and loss of fertility. The bill also makes it virtually impossible for courts to award punitive damages against health industry players. Punitive damages are a rare punishment typically granted for particularly egregious behavior.

“All the elements of [Gingrey’s] proposal will bring further pain to patients who have suffered severe injuries from medical malpractice,” Palmer wrote. “For the rest of my life, I will need some assistance from others because my arms are gone. So it is distressing for me to hear that legislators would stick a $250,000 price tag on severe injuries like the permanent loss of necessary bodily parts and functions. Every patient’s injuries and circumstances should be considered on an individual basis. They should not be placed into a category as if one size fits all.”

Studies show that preventable medical errors kill more than 100,000 Americans a year and injure millions more. Yet fewer than 2.5 percent of malpractice victims sue. 

Despite the massive number of medical errors and the scarcity of malpractice lawsuits, the new Republican majority in Congress is pressing ahead with efforts to curtail a very basic right of all Americans – the right to go to court – and billing it as a cost-saving measure.

 “Instead of debating proposals that would inflict more pain on injured patients, Congress should consider ways to reduce the astounding number of medical errors and ensure that the health industry is strongly encouraged to provide Americans with quality care,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel with Public Citizen.

Gingrey’s 2004 lawsuit stems from a 2002 crash in which another driver allegedly rear-ended Gingrey’s car, causing Gingrey to crash into the vehicle in front of him.

Gingrey’s complaint said that he suffered physical injuries, as well as physical and mental pain.

The complaint also said that he had incurred “special damages in the form of past, present, and future, medical and hospitalization expenses.” Gingrey said that he “was injured grievously, has experienced conscious physical and mental pain, suffering, fright and distress in the past, and will continue to suffer the same in the future, for which he is entitled to recover general damages … in amounts to be determined by a jury.”

Recently news reports revealed that Gingrey, an obstetrician who was elected to Congress in 2002, was involved in a $500,000 malpractice settlement in 2007. A pregnant woman sued several doctors, saying that inappropriate care caused the loss of her fetus and other complications.

“Rep. Gingrey is trying to create a two-tier justice system where he can sue whomever he wants, but he gets a free pass if he hurts someone,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “It’s astonishingly self-serving.”

To view the lawsuit Gingrey filed, go to https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/jg-complaint-20110311.pdf.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.