As newly announced vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards’ record is scrutinized, political critics are re-examining claims the former trial lawyer amassed much of the personal fortune that financed his political career by winning legal cases based on “junk science.”
Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry named the North Carolina senator as his running mate yesterday, calling him “a champion for middle class Americans.”
CNSNews.com first reported in January how Edwards won record jury verdicts and settlements in cases alleging that the botched treatment of women in labor and their deliveries caused infants to develop the brain disorder cerebral palsy.
Edwards specialized in these cases, which he characterized in his presidential campaign as battles on behalf of the common man against insurance companies.
But the cause of cerebral palsy long has been debated, and two new studies in 2003 further undermined the scientific premise of Edwards’ cases, CNSNews.com reported.
“There are some cases where the brain damage did occur at the time of delivery. But it’s really unusual. It’s really quite unusual,” Dr. Murray Goldstein, a neurologist and the medical director of the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, told the news agency.
“The overwhelming majority of children that are born with developmental brain damage, the ob/gyn could not have done anything about it, could not have, not at this stage of what we know,” Goldstein stated.
Medical science increasingly is exonerating doctors in cases of labor and delivery where cerebral palsy resulted, medical and legal experts told CNSNews.com.
“At the end of the day, I verily believe we will find [the cause of cerebral palsy is] all genetic,” said Eldon L. Boisseau of the Kansas-based firm Turner and Boisseau.
Dr. John Freeman, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., said “a great many of these cases are due to subtle infections of the child before birth.”
Nevertheless, some of Edwards’ critics say his extraordinary oratorical skills overcame the latest science, enabling him to persuade juries that doctors were at fault for the cerebral palsy in infants.
In an analysis last year of Edwards’ legal career, the Boston Globe wrote that his trial summations “routinely went beyond a recitation of his case to a heart-wrenching plea to jurors to listen to the unspoken voices of injured children.”
An example came from a medical malpractice trial in 1985 in which Edwards blamed a doctor and a hospital for the cerebral palsy afflicting then-5-year-old Jennifer Campbell.
“I have to tell you right now – I didn’t plan to talk about this – right now I feel her [Jennifer], I feel her presence,” Edwards told the jury according to court records. “[Jennifer's] inside me and she’s talking to you. … And this is what she says to you. She says, ‘I don’t ask for your pity. What I ask for is your strength. And I don’t ask for your sympathy, but I do ask for your courage.’”
The emotional plea convinced the jury to award Campbell’s family a record jury verdict of $6.5 million against the hospital where the girl was born.
From judgments or settlements related to medical malpractice, Edwards built a personal fortune estimated at between $12.8 and $60 million. His former law firm, Edwards & Kirby of Raleigh, N.C., reportedly kept between 25 and 40 percent of the jury awards and settlements during the time he worked there, CNSNews.com said.
In 63 lawsuits alone, Edwards won “more than $152 million,” according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Suits blaming obstetricians for cerebral palsy and other infant brain damage “may constitute the single biggest branch of medical malpractice litigation,” said Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, even though the recent studies make those cases “scientifically unfounded.”
As a result, he told CNSNews.com, medical specialities such as obstetrics, emergency room medicine and neurosurgery have become crippled.
“A few years ago every neurosurgeon in Washington D.C., had been sued, and it can’t be because the nation’s capital gets only bad neurosurgeons,” Olson said. “It’s because it’s too tempting to file against the competent ones because so many terrible things go wrong with their patients.”
CNSNew.com said Edwards did not respond to repeated requests through his campaign offices for comment.
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