Supporters, opponents of tort reform bill present arguments

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The Las Vegas Review-Journal

Dueling news conferences Wednesday at Valley Hospital Medical Center marked the first time the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association has engaged in an overt bid to win the public’s sympathy in the medical malpractice insurance crisis.

Half an hour before Sen. John Ensign’s news conference to announce his tort reform bill based on California’s 1975 legislation, the trial lawyers held their own news conference.

The news media was invited to interview two women — Dianne Meyer and Renee Williams — as a way to demonstrate that victims of malpractice also suffer.

Meyer has a pending lawsuit alleging malpractice by two doctors whom she said misdiagnosed her and failed to treat her correctly, causing septic shock. She said both her legs were amputated as a result.

Williams spoke of her 22-year-old daughter Danielle’s experience at Valley Hospital during the delivery of her fourth child, treatment which the family contends caused Danielle brain damage and left her unable to speak.

The family’s attorney, Jim Crockett, said trial attorneys have remained passive as doctors have been working the news media with stories of patients unable to find doctors and doctors leaving Nevada because they can’t afford the rising medical malpractice insurance premiums. The doctors and insurance companies say the cost of malpractice awards are causing the crisis.

‘We felt there was a lot of grandstanding by insurance companies and doctors,’ Crockett said during a sidewalk interview after the hospital asked the attorneys and the two women to leave the entrance of the hospital.

The attorneys have been holding back, he said, figuring the issues would be discussed either at the 2003 Legislature starting in February or in the courts.

Ensign’s news conference also featured patients — Dennis Finfrock, who talked about the difficulty getting doctors to come to Nevada, and Sherryllee Martinez, who was initially rejected for treatment by her OB/GYN.

Standing underneath a sign declaring ‘Protecting Patients,’ Ensign said it was necessary to place a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages, primarily damages for pain and suffering, and that tort reform would help patients get the care they need.

Asked if $250,000 would be adequate compensation if his wife, Darlene, suffered a tragedy as a result of medical malpractice, Ensign didn’t answer yes or no. The loss of his leg couldn’t be compensated with $250 million, Ensign said.

But he insisted he was trying to get reasonable compensation caps, and he dismissed ‘the trial lawyers’ horror stories and cheap tricks,’ a reference to the two women who had been interviewed outside on the sidewalk before his event.

Acknowledging his plan is a long-term effort and that it is unlikely to pass this year, the Nevada Republican said: ‘It has worked in California; no one questions it has worked in California. The doctors are not leaving there because their medical malpractice premiums are too high.’

Two groups that oppose tort reform legislation released a study Wednesday which they said shows that it’s not true that the 1975 tort reform legislation passed in California has kept down malpractice rates.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, based in California, and the Center for Justice & Democracy, based in New York, said their study showed it’s a myth that caps on pain and suffering enacted in California slowed the growth of malpractice insurance premiums there.

The study was conducted by Robert Hunter, former Texas insurance commissioner and federal insurance administrator during the Ford and Carter administrations. Hunter concluded that, ‘There is not much difference in the (medical malpractice) rates or the rate of change between California and the nation, based on the latest decade of experience.’

Ensign, a veterinarian, hadn’t invited any trial lawyers to the private round-table discussion at the hospital. He shut them out because, ‘They have clearly set out their position, and they’ll do anything to defeat (his bill) because it’s not in their interests.’

Malpractice attorneys take cases on contingency and are paid a percentage of the award if they win a case.


Sherryllee Martinez, 39, a stay-at-home mom, is eight weeks’ pregnant. When she called her obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Jeffrey Wrightson, she was told his office wasn’t accepting new patients because of the medical malpractice insurance crisis. When she explained she was an existing patient, the nurse said she would give him Martinez’s file and he would call her. He was her obstetrician for her first child after she became pregnant using fertility drugs. ‘My doctor told me 80 percent of obstetricians aren’t taking new patients. I didn’t understand exactly what the reason is,’ she said. He told her not to worry and that there are ways to get medical attention. ‘He’s not saying absolutely he won’t take me.’

Dennis Finfrock, 55, former vice president of special events and general manager of the MGM Grand Garden and former executive director of the Thomas & Mack Center and Sam Boyd Stadium, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease eight-and-a-half years ago. He said he tried to get his California doctor at Loma Linda University Medical Center to move to Las Vegas. One reason the doctor wouldn’t was because of medical malpractice costs in Nevada, although it wasn’t the only reason. ‘It’s a tragedy that people are going out of state for medical care,’ Sen. John Ensign said.


Dianne Meyer, 58, said she went to Summerlin Hospital and Medical Center in November 2000 with a kidney stone, went into septic shock, was in a coma for six weeks, and both of her legs were amputated below the knees. She is suing two doctors and the hospital. ‘Attorneys are being shown to be evil people, but they

represent victims. … I went in as a happy soul, and when I came out my life was totally destroyed.’ She alleges she was misdiagnosed and incorrectly treated. A $250,000 cap for her pain and suffering, as proposed by Ensign, isn’t enough, she said. Her decision to appear publicly with her artificial legs wasn’t easy, she said. ‘I felt like Daisy Duck standing out there,’ she said.

Renee Williams now cares for her 22-year-old daughter, Danielle, who went into Valley Hospital Medical Center on Nov. 7, 2000, as an expectant mother, suffered massive bleeding and a stroke, and now must use a wheelchair. A $250,000 cap on pain and suffering is too restrictive, she said. Danielle worked at CitiBank as a customer service representative. Now, her mother said, ‘She just lays there. She can’t respond to me because of the stroke. She listens attentively, but she gets so frustrated because she can’t talk, that she cries. She can’t talk to her children.’ Danielle’s children are 19 months and 8, 5, 3 years old. No lawsuit has been filed.

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