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Bob Blissitt was shocked to see footage of his mother’s visit to the emergency room broadcast during a tort reform infomercial last July. Last week, the family of the now deceased woman filed suit against St. Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta and the group responsible for the infomercial, Doctors for Medical Liability Reform, charging them with invasion of privacy. The family is seeking unspecified general as well as punitive damages. Blissitt v. Doctors for Medical Liability Reform, No. 2004CV90693 (Fult. Super. Sept. 3, 2004). “It’s shocking that a group of physicians would be willing to compromise patient privacy to pursue a political agenda,” said D. Brandon Hornsby, the lead attorney representing the family. “There are few places more private than a hospital room. Most people consider a hospital to be a sanctuary.” Hornsby will represent the family along with Albert M. Pearson III and Nicholas C. Moraitakis, both of Atlanta’s Moraitakis, Kushel, Pearson & Gardner. Moraitakis is a Democratic state representative for Atlanta, and he served on the House Judiciary Committee, which oversaw certain tort reform litigation this year. The single-term legislator did not seek re-election this year, claiming his district had been redrawn to support a Republican. According to the suit, Doctors for Medical Liability Reform hired the Oklahoma City-based marketing firm Ackerman McQueen and its wholly owned subsidiary public relations firm, the Mercury Group, to “create, design and market” its tort reform campaign. Bill Powers, the executive vice president of Mercury Group, returned a reporter’s message seeking comment from Doctors for Medical Liability Reform. He said neither his company, Ackerman McQueen nor Doctors for Medical Liability Reform would offer any comment for this story. St. Joseph’s Hospital faces a count of breaching fiduciary duty, in addition to the invasion of privacy claims. A spokeswoman for the hospital, Lynn Peterson, declined to discuss the suit, saying St. Joseph’s had not yet been served. She did say that the hospital tries to maintain patient privacy as much as possible. “We do everything we can to ensure patient privacy in every situation,” she said. AN ‘AGGRESSIVE’ CAMPAIGN Doctors for Medical Liability Reform, an organization that touts itself as a coalition of more than 230,000 medical specialists who support federal legislation to reform medical liability laws, began an “aggressive, multimillion-dollar” public relations campaign in Georgia last July. According to the suit, the group has raised $7 million to support its ongoing advocacy efforts. The Georgia campaign included print and radio ads, as well as a 30-minute infomercial that aired on both network and cable television. The infomercial makes the case for medical liability reform through interviews with doctors who have left their practices — or left Georgia — and through interviews with the patients they’ve left behind. The film crew also visited the emergency rooms of several hospitals in Georgia, including Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph’s, to document the shortage of doctors available to provide emergency treatment. The footage from Grady included shots of one man bleeding from his head and another man receiving treatment for injuries sustained in a motorcycle wreck. “Remember, these are not actors. There are no scripts or re-enactments. This crisis is real and happening now,” says the host of the infomercial, Dr. Angela F. Gardner. One of the real people used in the infomercial was Sarah Evelyn Blissitt. SUIT: FILM CREW LACKED CONSENT On Feb. 27, Blissitt was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sandy Springs for treatment of a spiral fracture to her tibia and fibula. Her children and her husband met her at the hospital. According to the complaint, the family came into the emergency room and noticed the Doctors for Medical Liability Reform film crew. Two people wearing St. Joseph’s identification badges accompanied the film crew, according to the compliant. The family asked the film crew what it was doing in the emergency room, and the crew said it was filming an “in-house video, to show how the emergency-room team related with the emergency-room technician teams that were bringing patients to the hospital’s emergency room,” according to the complaint. The family members were never told “the true purpose” of the filming, nor were they told that their mother had been filmed, the complaint said. Less than six weeks later, Sarah Blissitt died. Her son Bob Blissitt was watching television on July 24 when he saw footage of his mother’s visit to St. Joseph’s in the infomercial. The first shot of Sarah Blissitt appears in the 12th minute of the video as a team of five emergency workers lifts the elderly woman out of a stretcher and into a hospital gurney. She is wrapped in blankets, and her mouth is drooping, the effect of a mini-stroke suffered some time before the hospital visit. The shot lasts about two to three seconds. A little more than 30 seconds later, Blissitt is seen from a side angle being wheeled in on a stretcher. She is strapped down with an oxygen hose leading up to her nose, and her head is propped up by at least three pillows. Blissitt’s daughter, Carol Blissitt, called St. Joseph’s to complain about the footage. According to the complaint, a St. Joseph’s representative told the daughter that there was no record of a written consent for the filming of Sarah Blissitt. The hospital then told representatives of Doctors for Medical Liability Reform and the group’s two public relations firms, Ackerman McQueen and Mercury Group, about the Blissitt family’s concerns. Nevertheless, the infomercial continued to be available to the public through the Doctors for Medical Liability Reform Web site. However, in the days leading up to the filing of the suit, the footage of Blissitt was removed.

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