Medical Malpractice Reform Debate

Sarah Moss (1) was a four year old girl who had one of her kidneys removed and her ureter (2) attached to that kidney was re-attached to the remaining kidney. Unfortunately, while still at the hospital, she began leaking urine into her abdomen from the ureter re-attachment. Her belly swelled with fluid, making it difficult for her to breathe. Electrolytes which should have been excreted with her urine were being reabsorbed into her blood through her abdominal wall, destroying the delicate chemical balances in her blood. Despite several calls to the surgical team from Sarah’s nurse, Sarah was allowed to deteriorate for approximately 16 hours after her difficulty breathing was first identified. She died from cardiac arrest.

Jim Rilling was a 19 year old with an illness that required he be hospitalized and given liquids and nutrition through an IV line placed through his neck. When he had recovered from his illness and was ready to go home, the hospital sent a nurse to remove the IV line. Unfortunately, the nurse had never been properly trained to remove such a line and she did not follow proper procedure. When Jim began to gasp for air, the nurses failed to respond, telling Jim he was anxious and needed to calm down. Due to the improper procedure, a bubble of air had entered Jim’s blood vessels and traveled to his heart. In front of the nurses and his own parents, who were there to take their son home, Jim asphyxiated and died.

Parents should never bury their children. The pain is unimaginable and it lasts forever. If a child dies because someone was negligent, American tradition and basic fairness demand accountability. But some members of Congress want to eliminate that accountability by further victimizing bereaved parents, and they are using health care reform as the excuse. They want to place low, arbitrary and artificial limits on the compensation available to bereaved parents, thus benefiting insurance companies (3) and wrongdoers at the expense of suffering parents. Such limits, when combined with the inherent difficulty and expense of even the most egregious medical malpractice cases (which are always vigorously defended) will effectively shut such parents out of the courtroom, regardless of how gross the negligence and regardless of how profound the family’s loss. Once again, the powerful will have made a mockery of “equal justice under the law,” at the expense of ordinary, suffering people.

Don’t let them. Ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Victims of negligence deserve to be heard in court and have a fair decision based on the merits of their claims. Also, we the people must protect our right to govern ourselves, whether it is through elected officials or by administering justice in the courtroom.

If you think these parents and others like them have suffered enough, if you want to maintain a government of the people, by the people and for the people, write your representatives in Washington and tell them “NO” to protecting negligent wrongdoers.

About the Author: Mic McConnell is a Virginia medical malpractice attorney with the law firm of Allen & Allen.

(1) The cases described here are true. The names have been changed.

(2) The ureters are the tubes that connect each kidney to the bladder. Urine flows from the kidneys through the ureters to the bladder.

(3) See article “Medical Malpractice Insurers’ Profits Higher Than Nearly All Fortune 500 Companies”, 10/6/09, at