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Sponsor of Federal Malpractice Bill Paid $500,000 to Settle Malpractice Suit

Sponsors of medical malpractice reform bills have introduced this type of legislation for many reasons. Lowering the cost of health care, increasing availability of doctors, and lowering malpractice insurance rates are often given as reasons to take malpractice cases away from juries. Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia has a much more personal reason; he has been sued for medical malpractice four times and was the defendant in a malpractice suit that was settled for $500,000.

According to the New York Times, Gingrey is the sponsor of a bill that will limit malpractice jury awards to $250,000 and restrict fees to attorneys who represent malpractice victims. The proposed legislation also bars punitive damage awards against producers of drugs and medical devices that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Gingrey is one of the leading proponents in Congress to limit medical malpractice awards, many of which, he has contended, are frivolous.

The settled case involved a pregnant woman who claimed that Gingrey, then a practicing obstetrician, failed to diagnose that she had appendicitis when she was hospitalized with intense abdominal pain. The suit also included an allegation from the woman's husband that Gingrey failed to check on the woman while he was on shift; Gingrey denied the allegation. The woman's appendix eventually burst, causing a massive infection that eventually led to the loss of her fetus. She further suffered from respiratory distress, spent a month on a ventilator, and eventually had a stroke, which left her partially disabled, according to court records.

Gingrey's office issued a statement indicating that the lawsuit was settled due to the cost, time, and stress of continuing the case, along with a desire for closure. He continues to deny that he or any other doctors involved in the case deviated from their professional standard of care. The case was originally dismissed by a trial court before trial was concluded. Gingrey's office noted at that time that the case had been a "major distraction." However, an appeals court overturned the lower court decision and ordered a retrial. An insurer paid the $500,000 settlement on behalf of Gingrey and his practice before the second trial was scheduled to begin.