A young couple eagerly awaits the arrival of their second child and gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. Although she looks healthy, a blood test indicates a high risk of extreme jaundice. Ignoring these warning signs and against accepted medical standards, the doctor sends the baby home. The infant is inconsolable, and only after a few calls from the frantic parents does the doctor finally admit the child back to the hospital for treatment. But it’s too late. Because the doctor failed to treat the infant’s jaundice quickly and correctly, she has an irreversible brain injury for the rest of her life.
Sadly, this scenario is not hypothetical. Baby Kara was born in 2014. Because of her doctor’s gross negligence, she is confined to a wheelchair, cannot speak and will require expensive care forever. She will never go for a walk with her dog, walk across the stage to receive her diploma, or walk down the aisle to greet her groom. Many people live rich and fulfilling lives with disabilities, but this was the fault of a grossly negligent provider who took an oath to do no harm.
What is the cost of her pain, suffering and emotional trauma caused by this devastating oversight? What is the cost of not being able to crawl, to walk, to ever run? You cannot put a price tag on the pain caused by a life-shattering injury, especially one that was entirely preventable, unnecessary and happened only because of another’s negligence.
That’s why I was one of only a handful of Republicans to break with my party and oppose HR 1215, which the House passed 218-210, despite my opposition. This bill would cap medical malpractice lawsuits by limiting victim damages not related to earning potential to $250,000.
This was a difficult vote. I am a strong supporter of reeling in abuses in our tort system — both at the federal and state level — that will result in lower costs for consumers and patients. I would support a federal measure that reduces frivolous and fraudulent lawsuits by clarifying the definition of an “expert witness” based on professional qualifications and geographic relation to where the case is being litigated.
I also support state bills like SB 1018, which Arizona passed in 2009, requiring injured victims to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that malpractice occurred.
I have great respect for the amazing doctors in our community who give so much of their lives to the healing profession and do the best they can every day. They should be protected from frivolous and unreasonable claims against them when they use good judgment and follow acceptable medical protocols. But no one wins when bad actors are protected from the full consequences of their negligence and victims are not fairly compensated for their losses. We must ensure doctors are held to national standards of care.
I did not support HR 1215 because I could not support a bill that sets a price on the trauma of a severe life-altering and dream-crushing harm to a fellow citizen. A retired teacher and marathon runner goes in for a routine surgery, but the doctor makes a significant mistake, and this man will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, unable to run again. A surgeon accidentally injures a college student athlete with a bone saw, causing permanent nerve damage. Her sports career is over. Do we really think the federal government can set a value of their quality of life at $250,000?
I do not believe it is the role of the federal government or any member of Congress to interject and declare the value of an individual’s life, lived to the fullest. It is the role of judges and juries to consider each case and the unique suffering inflicted — not the role of the federal government.
These views are not just my own. In fact, Article 18 Section 6 of the Arizona Constitution prohibits state laws that would limit the amount of damages that can be recovered for causing the death or injury of any person.
Not only that, the voters of Arizona rejected a ballot initiative that would cap the amount of damages recoverable in a medical malpractice action in 1986. The voters of Arizona also overwhelmingly rejected two similar ballot initiatives: Proposition 105 in 1990 and Proposition 103 in 1994.
I am proud to stand against the majority in Congress on this bill because I stand with the people of Arizona, with victims of medical malpractice, and with the good doctors across our nation who hold themselves to higher standards. Because each human life is priceless.