Dennis Quaid: Actor, father, documentary film maker, MICRA fighter
Friday, April 16, 2010
Every since he broke into the Hollywood big time with “Breaking Away,” actor Dennis Quaid has been one to do it his own way. Now the father of twins is making his mark by taking on MICRA, California’s 35-year-old law that has capped non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000.
Quaid has produced a documentary film springing from his own experiences with medicine gone wrong: The nearly fatal overdose of medication administered to his newborn twins in 2007.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press following a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, Quaid said, “There were 41 hours where their lives were in the balance.” He said it was the most frightening day of his life and left him and his wife, Kimberly, in “shock, anger and confusion.”
In the documentary, “Chasing Zero: Winning the War on Healthcare Harm,” slated to run April 24 on Discovery Channel, Quaid details the toil of medical mistakes on society. He appeared this past week at the National Press Club in Washington to talk about the nation’s medical malpractice epidemic, and in a TV interview talked about how the 98,000 preventable deaths due to medical error each year in America make such mistakes the third leading killer in the nation.
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Quaid, 56, is no stranger to taking a stand. CBC 60 Minutes has done a piece on the twins’ medical travails. In 2008, just months after his twins — Thomas and Zoe — recovered from an overdose of the blood thinner heparin, Quaid spoke to Congress about his concerns with mounting medical malpractice and with the limits on legal challenges established in California and other states. In written testimony Quaid said:
I have also learned a lot about the legal system – and it was surprising, I have to tell you. Like many Americans, I believed that a big problem in our country was frivolous lawsuits. But now I know that the courts are often the only path to justice for families that are harmed by the pharmaceutical industry and medical errors. Yet the law is stacked against ordinary people. For instance, in my home state of California, a 1975 law caps compensation to malpractice victims. The cap has never been raised for inflation. The practical effect is that people without the wealth to pay legal fees up front are unable to get their cases before a judge or jury.
Now we face something with potential to be even more sweeping and even more unjust: federal preemption. The Supreme Court is about to decide whether to bar most lawsuits over drugs and their labeling, as long as the drug was approved for marketing by the FDA. After many years of rejecting arguments that FDA actions should preempt lawsuits involving injuries from products regulated by the FDA, White House appointees at the FDA reversed that position in 2002, and now argue that FDA approval immunizes the manufacturers of dangerous products from liability for the deaths and injuries they cause.
We sued Baxter Healthcare Corporation in November 2007. Baxter has filed a motion to dismiss the case, relying on the same preemption argument that the drug industry and the FDA has made before the Supreme Court – that when the FDA allowed its Heparin drug onto the market, it gave Baxter the government’s seal of approval – a “get out of jail free” card that denies us the right to hold the company accountable. (Of course, Baxter never mentions the FDA regulations that encourage and sometimes require manufacturers to fix their drug labels immediately, without getting the FDA’s permission first.) So, says Baxter, our suit may not be heard by a judge or jury.
It is hard for me to imagine that this is what Congress intended. You tell me, Mr. Chairman: When it passed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1938, did Congress intend to give appointed bureaucrats at the FDA the right to protect a drug company from liability, even when the company cuts corners and jeopardizes our safety? A federal ban on lawsuits against drug companies would not just deny victims compensation for the harm they experience. It would also relieve drug companies of their responsibility to make products as safe as possible, and especially to correct drug problems when they are most often discovered – years after their drugs are on the market.
Permitting bureaucrats who are under pressure from their bosses and the drug companies themselves to yank our access to the courts is incomprehensible. We have all heard about understaffing and backlogs at the FDA, and about drug-safety scrutiny that is patchy at best. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the drug companies, it will eliminate one of the most effective deterrents to letting the bottom line win out over public health and safety.
We can hope that the Supreme Court will not put more barriers in front of patients who are harmed by drug companies. But if the Court goes along with the FDA and rules for the drug companies, I respectfully ask this Congress to pass corrective legislation on an emergency basis, just as it should do immediately to correct the recent Supreme Court decision immunizing the makers of defective and mislabled medical devices. We Americans need some balance on the scales of justice in our country.
Tags: 98000 deaths, hospitals, medical care, Medical negligence, MICRA, wrongful death;
Category: Medical Negligence; Page One; Tort Reform;