January 21, 2003
Board Member, FTCR
President-Elect Donald J. Palmisano, MD
American Medical Association
515 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Via Facsimile & US Mail
On The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer you spoke of a California child who at two years of age was blinded and brain damaged as a result of medical negligence. You argued for a national limit on legal damages for victims, claiming that “$42 million was given to that child” for medical care and rehabilitation. In truth, “that child”, our son Steven Olsen, eventually received less than $2 million from the jury for a lifetime of care and other costs. You should immediately issue a correction to be broadcast to the nation and an apology to our son, Steven, and his family.
Your claim inflated Steven’s compensation by 2,000% in an attempt to blame victims, and the juries that bring them justice, for runaway malpractice premiums. Here are the facts of the case.
Steven fell on a stick in the woods while playing. The hospital pumped Steven up with steroids and sent him away with a growing brain abscess. We brought him back to the doctor three times, and asked for a CAT scan because we knew Steven was not well. After being denied the CAT scan, Steven returned to the hospital comatose. At trial, medical experts testified that had he received the $800 CAT scan, which would have detected a growing brain mass, he would have his sight and be perfectly healthy today.
After numerous defense delay tactics and frivolous appeals, Steven received $1.975 million, not $42 million, from the jury to pay for his lifetime of care. Steven’s legal fees and court costs were $914,000. The jury supplemented this amount with $7.1 million in “non-economic” damages for Steven’s avoidable life of darkness and suffering. However, the judge reduced this to $250,000 because of California’s cap on non-economic damages, which you recommend for the nation. This amounts to little over $4000 a year for the rest of Steven’s life.
Congress may begin debate on a similar cap on damages as early as next month. As the prominent head of a national physician’s association, you have an obligation to be honest with doctors who pay premiums, victims whose recovery may be limited, and lawmakers who will be asked to trust your testimony. Steven has been victimized by the medical system, the tilting of the scales of justice in the tort system, and now by you and the organization you represent. We request that your correction and apology be to NewsHour by January 31 in order to set the record straight before Congressional debate begins.