Late last month, Dallas surgeon Christopher Duntsch received life in prison for surgical errors that directly caused the death of 2 patients and serious injuries to many others. The neurosurgeon, often described as overly confident, has left behind a bloody trail of victims in his wake. In a November 2016 article in Dallas Magazine author Matt Goodman describes just some of the carnage caused by Duntsch: ‘There was Kellie Martin, who died from massive blood loss after a surgery at Baylor Plano. There was Floella Brown, whose sliced vertebral artery triggered the stroke that killed her at Dallas Medical Center. There was Duntsch’s childhood friend, Jerry Summers, who woke up from a procedure unable to move his arms and legs. There was a dissection of one patient’s esophagus, and screws that an indictment labeled “far too long” that caused significant blood loss in another patient. One surgeon described these as “never events.” They shouldn’t ever happen in someone’s entire career. And yet they occurred in Duntsch’s operating rooms over a period of just two years.’
With all the horror the article describes, one can only wonder why none of these patients had tried to sue Duntsch and why the hospital hadn’t caught on to his pattern of death and destruction and terminated his employment.
Malpractice Caps in Texas Caused Horrific ‘Domino Effect’
While criminal charges against physicians are rare, many attorneys believe that putting limits on medical malpractice damages will cause a rise in criminal prosecution of doctors. Texas is one of a handful of states that have imposed caps on non-economic damages, which are intangible injuries such as pain, suffering, and loss of livelihood. When the civil justice process is unable to do its intended job of holding civilians accountable for negligence, the criminal justice system has to intervene. Allowing a doctor and hospital to act recklessly, whether or not those acts are fueled by intent, essentially allows for a no-responsibility pattern of behavior. The only problem is that reckless acts are at the expense of our livelihood and even our lives as patients.
Common sense tells us that if a hospital has the threat of expensive lawsuits hanging in the balance, they will examine potential staff carefully, uphold a robust review process of staff that occurs on an ongoing basis, and essentially weed out any physician or staff member with a pattern of mistakes. All of the injuries Duntsch caused to patients along the way were somehow overlooked because the victims never sued. Imagine you’ve become paralyzed as a result of a doctor’s error and you’re dealing with post-surgical medical bills, physical therapy bills, potential home health costs, and the loss of income from being unable to do your job. Knowing you may only recover the money you’ve spent out of pocket so far, what incentive is there to seek justice if you know the end result for all of the non-financial hardship you’ve endured would never be higher than $250,000? How will you pay the attorney fighting for you? Is $250,000 worth all of the time and heartache it will take to relive the nightmare you’ve endured? Texas attorney Christopher Hamilton referred to medical malpractice caps as having a domino effect. Hospitals ease up, physicians and staff let their guard down, and patients become victims without fair options for recourse.
Your Rights to Non-Economic Damages Could Be Taken Away
In several weeks, the House will vote on a proposed bill called H.R. 1215, or the Protecting Access to Care Act. If this bill becomes a law, it would limit your right to non-economic damages to $250,000, the same law that is currently in place in Texas. Limiting the rights of victims in Texas allowed a doctor to continue harming and killing innocent patients who went into a surgery with shaky nerves but full trust in their physician. Knowing the effort might not be worth the outcome, these victims suffered in silence, never holding Dr. Duntsch or his employer’s feet to the fire. It’s not right. If you agree, we urge you to click here to send an auto-generated email to your state Senator letting them know that you are against H.R. 1215 taking away your right to justice.
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