Edwards' Malpractice Suits Leaves Bitter Taste"
The Washington Times - August 16, 2004
By Charles Hurt
The American Medical Association lists North
Carolina's current health care situation as a "crisis" and blames it on medical-malpractice lawsuits such as the ones that made Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards a millionaire many times over.
One of the most successful personal-injury lawyers in
North Carolina history, Mr. Edwards won dozens of lawsuits against doctors and hospitals across the state that he now represents in the Senate. He won more than 50 cases with verdicts or settlements of $1 million or more, according to North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, and 31 of those were medical-malpractice suits.
During his 20 years of suing doctors and hospitals, he pioneered the art of blaming psychiatrists for patients who commit suicide and blaming doctors for delivering babies with cerebral palsy, according to doctors, fellow lawyers and legal observers who followed Mr. Edwards' career in North Carolina.
"The John Edwards we know crushed [obstetrics,
gynecology] and neurosurgery in North Carolina," said Dr. Craig VanDerVeer, a Charlotte neurosurgeon. "As a result, thousands of patients lost their health care." ...
One of his most noted victories was a $23 million
settlement he got from a 1995 case -- his last before joining the Senate -- in which he sued the doctor, gynecological clinic, anesthesiologist and hospital involved in the birth of Bailey Griffin, who had
cerebral palsy and other medical problems.
Linking complications during childbirth to cerebral
palsy became a specialty for Mr. Edwards. In the courtroom, he was known to dramatize the events at birth by speaking to jurors as if he were the unborn baby, begging for help, begging to be let out of the womb.
"He was very good at it," said Dr. John Schmitt, an
obstetrician and gynecologist who used to practice in Mr. Edwards' hometown of Raleigh. "But the science behind a lot of his arguments was flawed."
In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published a
study that cast serious doubt on whether events at
childbirth cause cerebral palsy. The "vast majority" of cerebral palsy cases originate long before childbirth, according to the study.
"Now, he would have a much harder time proving a lot
of his cases," said Dr. Schmitt, who now practices at the
University of Virginia Health System. ...
It is not clear just how much Mr. Edwards made as a
lawyer, but estimates based on a review of his lawsuit settlements and Senate records place his fortune at about $38 million.
Like many Democrats, Mr. Edwards has benefited from
the generosity of fellow trial lawyers, who have given
millions of dollars to Mr. Edwards' political campaigns and other political endeavors. ...
As a result of these and other cases, insurance rates
for doctors have skyrocketed -- putting some out of
business and driving others away, especially from rural areas. And doctors who have lost cases to Mr. Edwards have been bankrupted.
Patients, meanwhile, are left with rising health care costs and fewer -- if any -- doctors in their area. It is
increasingly nationwide problem, physicians say.
Dr. VanDerVeer, the Charlotte neurosurgeon, recalled
one recent night on duty when two patients arrived in an
emergency room in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the area's last neurosurgeons quit
earlier this year.
"No one in Myrtle Beach would accept responsibility
for these patients," he said. And because it was raining, the helicopters were grounded, so the patients were loaded into ambulances and driven the four hours to Charlotte.
Upon arrival, one patient had died, and the other
learned that she merely had a minor concussion -- and a $6,000 bill for the ambulance ride.
"That's just one little slice of life here," Dr.
VanDerVeer said. "It's a direct result of the medical-malpractice situation that John Edwards fomented."
Dr. Schmitt had spent 20 years delivering babies in
Raleigh. Though he had no claims against him, his insurance tripled in one year. With no assurances that his rates would ever drop, or just stop rising, he left town. ...
"We are currently being sued out of existence," Dr.
VanDerVeer said. "People have to choose whether they want these lawyers to make gazillions of dollars in pain and suffering awards or whether they want health care."