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Medical malpractice victims to Congress: We are not frivolous!

Merlyna Adams of Louisiana sported a large round button on her lapel as she addressed reporters at a press conference yesterday. The button simply said: “I am not frivolous.”

Merlyna and eight families who have fallen victim to medical malpractice traveled to Washington, D.C., to ask their members of Congress to oppose proposals that would limit patients’ legal rights in the health care reform legislation.

Merlyna is a school principal whose medical treatment for a kidney stone in 2007 led to a lengthy stay in a hospital’s intensive care unit, congestive heart failure, renal failure, pulmonary failure and amputation of both her hands and her legs below the knee. All of this was preventable. She told her story frankly and eloquently to the news media, and again in meetings with her state’s members of Congress. The everyday tasks that so many people take for granted, like brushing their teeth or eating, she no longer can do on her own, she said.

Steven Olsen of California and his family also took part in the patient safety lobby day. In 2001, an HMO denied Steven, then a two-year old, an $800 CAT scan after he had taken a fall while hiking. Today, Steven is blind and brain-damaged and must be watched constantly. A jury awarded Steven $7.1 million in non-economic compensation, but California’s caps-on-damages law forced the judge to reduce the amount to $250,000, which equals $4,000 for every year of his life until he reaches 60, his mother Kathy told reporters at the press conference.

The stories of Merlyna Adams, Steven Olsen and others show that the incessant shouts from so-called tort reformers of “frivolous lawsuits!” and “jackpot justice!” are simply bogus. Most malpractice victims who survive their ordeal suffer serious injuries and require lifelong medical care. And the number of victims who don’t survive is astounding. According to the Institute of Medicine, about 98,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors.

That’s why it’s imperative that Congress rejects malpractice “reform” proposals that strip patients of their rights. Instead, improving patient safety should be a top priority of health care reform. After all, the best way to reduce the cost of medical malpractice lawsuits is to reduce the malpractice. Find out more about how to take action in support of real malpractice reform here.

Public Citizen joined with the following groups to host the patient safety lobby day: Alliance for Justice, American Association for Justice, Center for Justice & Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, National Consumers League, National Women’s Health Network, NCCNHR: The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care and USAction.