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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > GOP Leads Drive on Five Federal Preemptions

If you ever wondered to what limits of cruelty and greed the Republicans, who control the money committees in Congress, will go, consider the latest display of viciousness. Fresh from raising their own pay and using your billions of tax dollars to build more flawed B-2 bombers that even the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff do not want, the Gingrich gang is going after the maimed and mauled victims of criminal or negligent doctors, hospitals, and manufacturers of defective medical products in the District of Columbia.

Led by Gingrich, the overall boss of the House, and his sidekicks Reps. Charles Taylor (R-NC) and Bob Livingston (R-LA), a bill is heading for the House floor intended to further do in the colony known as the District of Columbia and set the stage for the rest of you in America to kneel before the ‘soft on business crime’ crowd on Capitol Hill.

Like any other area of the country, there are some bad doctors and hospital practices in the District of Columbia. Medical devices are sometimes implanted into citizens there that are dangerously designed or manufactured. Two hundred years of American law says that wrongfully injured people have a right to trial by jury and their full day in court to hold responsible their harmdoers and deter future unsafe practices in the future that may produce more human casualties.

Gingrich, Taylor and Livingston do not like this American tradition of civil justice. They want crooked politicians, who take money from the harmdoers for their political campaigns, to put handcuffs on judges and jurors who are deciding the rights of the most seriously injured people before them in court. Here is how the corporate Republicans plan to do this:

They want to drop the ceiling or cap on what malpractice victims can secure from the courts to a lifetime limit of $250,000 for pain and suffering (injuries such as lost child-bearing ability, disfigurement, and loss of sight). The cap hurts those who suffer the most serious injuries and by making a double standard between economic damages (such as some medical expenses and lost wages) and non-economic damages, low-wage workers, the elderly, children and women, who work in the home, lose out.

Secondly, criminal negligence or worse behavior call for punitive damages. The Gingrich gang wants to cap punitive damage awards at $250,000 or three times the amount of economic loss, whichever is greater. Punitive damages are meant to protect all Americans by sending a deterring dollar message to the hospital, corporation or physician. It is hard enough to win punitive damages in court without this arbitrary cap making matters more difficult.

What’s more, a majority of punitive damage awards in medical malpractice cases are awarded to women who are sexually abused by health care providers.

Thirdly, the Republicans, after pushing legislation to weaken the Food and Drug Administration’s standards, want to have FDA approved products to be immune from any punitive damages. Hundred of Americans who died from the FDA-approved Bjork-Shiley heart valve, that broke open in their chests, have relatives who would object to that surrender to corporate crime.

More than nine of ten wrongfully injured people do not even file a law suit — so difficult it is to find the right attorney, get a hold on the evidence possessed by the defendant and persist against a war of delays and attrition by the company’s or hospital’s law firms.

With at least 80,000 people losing their lives in the U.S. due to malpractice just in hospitals every year, according to the physicians at the Harvard School of Public Health, this is no time to set the stage for weaker standards of responsibility.

What happens to the District of Columbia may happen to the rest of the country, because two years ago, the Gingrich gang got such a bill through the House of Representatives. Democratic opposition in the Senate blocked passage there.

Cong. David Obey (D-WI) understands all this and is fighting to stop the wrongdoers lobby from ravaging our laws which are designed to respect the physical integrity of innocent human beings. Where does your Congressional Representative stand?