Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

The lawyer told us a story last night, to illustrate his understanding of how unsatisfying wrongful death cases are.

He represented a woman whose husband drove a flammable gas truck for a living. He was driving it up I77 when it exploded. He was vaporized. They found parts of the truck engine a mile away.

The wife won a seven figure verdict.

When the "award" was announced, she just sat there, she didn't smile and she didn't say anything. Following the trial, when they would talk to her, she would never ask about the money (when it would come, etc).

She's in her 60's and she was going to retire with her husband this year.

She pursued and won the "justice" that was available to her...for her husband.

But it won't bring him back. Her life will never be how it was supposed to be.

The lawyer seems concerned that our case has to be able to "make" enough to make it worth the time and energy (and money). I told the lawyer I understand his need to be able to make a living. But for me, this is about the next pregnant woman who walks into that she will get paid proper attention. He didn't laugh at me when I said it, so I have a better feeling about him than I did going into our meeting.

I do wonder about other women. I wonder how many women have to suffer through this pain because their doctor dropped the ball...but because the legal standard wasn't on their side, they get no justice, no apologies, nothing to assure them that the doctor has learned from their mistake. The legal system is all about money...and not what is right. And it apparently leaves doctors to self-regulate. I think you know my opinion on the job they're doing with that.

So we have to prove three things...
1. Breach of standard of care--I think we've got that one covered.
2. Proximate cause--the doctors' inactions directly caused Alex's death--a medical "expert" will have to render an opinion on this--a preliminary opinion indicates there is at least something there worth looking at.
3. Damages--we will have to put a dollar value on Alex's life. Here's where my difficulty lies. There IS NO dollar value to Alex's life that would satisfy me. I'm not so concerned with his earning potential (he could have worked at McDonald's his whole life)...I'm concerned with that intrinsic value that comes with life itself. Sure, he may have been a freeloader his whole life...but he would be ALIVE. It seems this is a concept the law cannot satisfactorily grasp.

Here is where I get political...turn away if you have sensitivities to differing opinions in this area...

How can the conservative platform advocate that all life is precious and then advocate for limits to recovery for a baby's life? Out of one side of their mouths they say that life is irreplaceable...out of the other, they say that my son't life had no value because he was "just a baby." I was ok in the meeting until the lawyer started talking value. I was ok until he said that there is no adequate way to determine Alex's "worth." How do I explain what it is worth, in dollars, to spend a sunny afternoon filling up the swimming pool with your child? How do I market price the value of knowing that my son is sleeping soundly with a full belly in the bassinett next to me, instead of in a grave up on the hill? How do I quantify, into dollars, the missing laughter, the missing hugs and kisses, the missing piece of my heart? It's all about earning potential these days. Those intangible things like emotions and mental well-being seem to have been discontinued and are simply not available for sale.

If they decide not to pursue the case, I know that at least I tried. And if they do decide to pursue the case, I know that I will find hollow justice for Alex at the end of the road. Don't you wish you were me? I take comfort in knowing that maybe my voice will be heard by someone somewhere. And the next pregnant woman who walks into that office will be paid attention to the way she should.


Lorem ipsum said...

Did you know that if someone accidentally kills your dog the only thing they may be liable for is the cash value of its replacement? Not the emotional investment, or any medical care it may be under. I don't know about age-related devaluation (old dog vs. young dog). But it's ridiculous, isn't it?

That said, I think it may be easier to put a cash value on a pet than on your child. Because you purchase your pet in the first place. It comes from somewhere outside of you. But with your child, it is FROM you. It isn't bought or sold, it just IS.

And I think that your doctor who did wrong has a lot of potential to hurt other women, using that same logic. How do you attach a price tag to something so... innate (for lack of a better word). Sadly, to such people, delivering babies is just another job and not a higher calling. Maybe it WAS a calling once, but now it's just all in a day's work.

And oh, personally, I believe that the right wing only cares about babies until they're born.

deadbabymama said...

Just a suggestion here, hope I'm not overstepping any boundaries. What if you decided on a symbolic amount that could be put to a fund that supports something that has meaning to you? So that instead of X amount = Alex's life (which it can't won't, etc) X amount = a new playground, research into stillbirth, whatever you decide. Plus your legal costs covered of course. Would something like that make sense to you?

And pardon my ignorance of your healthcare system here, but is there any way to do this besides the legal system and really gets at the systemic problems you are concerned about? In Canada each province has a College of Physicians and Surgeons who are a self-regulating body for doctors. but they are accountable to the public (via government) as well, is there anything like that you could lodge a complaint with as well? I think your commitment to wanting to make changes in the medical establishment is incredible and I'm wondering if this might be another avenue to go down to make it happen.

Lorem ipsum said...

Oh yeah. DBM has a great point. You can report the offending physician to the boards. Not sure where to start, but that can be WAY damaging. Doctors get sued all the time - that's why it's a given that they have malpractice insurance. A negative report can really hit them where it hurts, in their reputation.

Jill said...

DBM also has a good way of determining the amount of money to ask for. It must be easier to pick something that has worth to you and then pay for it. It then means that Alex has made a difference and THAT will be his 'worth'.

buffi said...

I think that you are right about in what you said about maybe looking out for the next woman who is in a similar situation. I wrote about it recently.

We are military & I very nearly lost a baby due to an incompetant OB. There is very little you can do in that situation, as one cannot sue a military dr. She is still practicing and endangering women and their babies. I made it my mission to tell everyone I could about her, but that was about all I could do.

I hope that there is some way to hold your OB accountable for her actions (or inaction). But, I know it will be cold comfort.

Lorem ipsum said...

Buffi, I don't know whether you're still reading this, but my mother-in-law (married just a year, age 25) nearly died giving birth to my husband in a Jacksonville Naval hospital. It was one incompetency after another, requiring literally dozens of blood transfusions, and it left her less 2/3 her stomach and the whole of her reproductive organs. To this day (33 years later) she needs daily injections to help with her digestion. When I asked her why no legal action was taken, she was told the same thing - you can't sue the military.

Needless to say, my sister-in-law is adopted.