One of the most moving stories in Sicko, Michael Moore’s prescient 2007 documentary film on the health care industry (and which occassionally comes up in this blog!), concerned the hideous, needless death of Mychelle Williams. Mychelle died of a entirely treatable infection. She was only 18-months-old. She died because Kaiser, her California HMO, refused to allow the baby to be properly treated at the nearest ER where an ambulance had already taken her, insisting that she be taken to a Kaiser hospital.
Dawnelle sued, but as this was California and all, well…. Wrote the L.A. Times,
The jury awarded Mychelle's single mother $1.35 million in damages for pain and suffering and $3,000 in economic compensation to cover the cost of Mychelle's funeral and burial. The trial judge--believing she was bound by the state's 24-year-old medical malpractice law--then slashed the award for pain and suffering to $250,000, the maximum the law allows.
Today, the Center for Justice & Democracy honors another child, James Adams from Georgia, who experienced a remarkably similar story. When James was five-months-old, he became ill, was in respiratory distress and needed emergency care. But “rather than telling the parents to call 911 or go to the nearest hospital, the [Kaiser] nurse told them they were pre-approved only to go to a Kaiser-affiliated hospital, which was 42 miles away.” His parents tried to speed him there, but “thirty miles into the trip, James suffered a respiratory arrest and his heart stopped beating."
James developed gangrene, ultimately requiring the amputation of his arms and legs. Had James’ parents been told to hang up and call 911, or take him to the nearest hospital, his amputations would never have been necessary.
The Adams’ brought suit, represented by the Georgia Law firm, Malone Law. [The] jury issued a $45 million verdict, $40 million for James and $5 million for his parents. The verdict brought public attention to the issue of managed care and helped change the way managed care is practiced in Georgia. A year after the verdict, the Georgia Legislature passed the Patient Protection Act, which among other reforms, includes a requirement that HMO’s tell patients they are permitted to call 911 or go to an emergency room without pre-approval if they believe their health is in jeopardy.
Today James is a healthy young man who has persevered and plays wheelchair sports. As his attorney, Tommy Malone, told ‘Georgia’s Best Lawyers’ in 2009, “His life has as much or more promise as any other 16-year-old I’ve seen. I know the civil justice system gave him a life, gave him back his dignity.”
Incredibly, in 2005, Georgia lawmakers followed California’s barbaric lead and enacted a “cap” in 2005. But thanks – if you can say that - to another medical malpractice tragedy, another Malone Law case made its way to the Georgia Supreme Court and in 2010, in a 7-0 ruling, the court struck it down.
But today is James Adams’ day, honored with the CJ&D Medal of Justice. And you can see Dawnelle’s equally poignant story is below.