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Tort reform measures help patients "receive the justice they deserve." Are you kidding me?

I thought this was a case that we could all agree upon.

David Fitzgerald went to his doctor to receive medical treatment and ended up with an infection that led to the amputation of both arms and legs. The case went to trial in February, and Fitzgerald prevailed. A jury awarded him $6.72 million in economic damages (things such as lost income and medical expenses) and also awarded an additional $11 million for his pain and suffering and impairment. Due to Texas medical malpractice limits, the $11 million was reduced to $250,000.00.

I thought this was a case where everyone could agree that the result was unjust. Even the tort reform lackeys talking about the case didn’t defend the result, but just said that limits are working. (They say limits are working because there are fewer malpractice cases. No kidding? If you change the rules so that the recovery in most cases isn’t high enough to justify the excessive cost of pursuing a malpractice case, of course, the number of cases will go down. But is that the proper measure of whether the limits work? Maybe we ought to learn something else from it.)

I didn’t think I’d really see anyone defending the result in the Fitzgerald case. I was wrong. Dr. Evelyn Tobias Merrill, of Fort Worth, had to write in to the Fort Worth Star Telegram and defend the verdict. As Dr. Merrill argued, “this case demonstrates that civil justice reforms in Texas enable patients to fully recover medical costs and living expenses associated with an injury…Reforms do work. They ensure that patients who have been injured receive the justice they deserve.”

Seriously, that’s justice? A man loses both arms and legs due to a doctor’s error and recovers $250,000 for his losses, and that’s justice? I try to think about what it would mean to me. No more hugging my wife. No more games of football or basketball with my kids. No more walking the kids to school. No more wrapping my arms around my kids to try and comfort them when they’re hurt. No more walks around the neighborhood with my dog. No more standing behind a grill with a beer, cooking for my buddies. No more Texas football, basketball or baseball games. No more golfing. No more volunteering around town.

For me, that’s not justice. And I suspect that if Dr. Merrill was the victim, she’d agree it wasn’t justice for her either.

Dr. Merrill’s letter and a response from a Dallas attorney are here.

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