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Now that U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey has won a suit in which he was the medical malpractice defendant, one might argue that the Marietta, Ga., Republican’s views on tort reform should soften. After all, does a civil justice system that allowed a judge to stop a trial against Gingrey and two medical partners and declare them the winners really need fixing? Yes, said Gingrey, an obstetrician-gynecologist for 26 years before his 2002 election to Congress. “All we need is a leveling of the playing field,” he added, throwing his support behind President Bush’s call for a $250,000 limit on the award injured plaintiffs may collect for pain and suffering. Gingrey is grateful to attorneys Lori G. Cohen and Victoria M. Davis of Alston & Bird for representing him in the victory, but he said, “In many ways I lost.” His mind was distracted from Congress as he waded through depositions, Gingrey said, and he had to spend two weeks in trial in August before Judge Melodie H. Clayton of Cobb County State Court issued a directed verdict in his and his partners’ favor. The ruling, coming halfway through the trial, went against Kimberly D. Walker, who claimed Gingrey, his partners, two surgeons and Kennestone Hospital were responsible for her losses and injuries from an undiagnosed appendicitis that led to the loss of her 16-week pregnancy. She also suffered physical and cognitive problems stemming from a stroke that came as a result of complications from the burst appendix. The surgeons and the hospital settled with the plaintiff, said Cohen, but Gingrey and his partners refused settlement discussions and went to trial. D. Gary Lovell Jr. of Carlock, Copeland, Semlar & Stair, who represented one of the surgeons, said the agreement’s details were confidential. NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE Cohen did not ask the judge for pretrial summary judgment because she thought the plaintiff had a good enough case to get to a jury, she said. But after the plaintiffs lawyers, Robert U. Wright and Edward C. Henderson Jr. of Schklar, Wright & Henderson, put up their evidence, Cohen asked Clayton to take the case out of the jury’s hands and rule for Gingrey and his partners. “They just did not put up enough evidence” linking Gingrey and his partners’ alleged negligence to the plaintiff’s injuries, Cohen said, adding that the surgeons’ negligence was the intervening cause. (Lovell, representing one of the surgeons, maintains his client provided an appropriate standard of care.) Cohen said she supports tort reform efforts because the cost to defendants, even those who win, can be “enormously expensive.” She would not say how much the defense of Gingrey and his partners cost; legal bills, which included the cost of two weeks in court and at least 45 depositions around the country, were paid by the doctors’ malpractice insurer. Wright said he already had notified the court that the plaintiff will appeal Clayton’s ruling, arguing that Georgia law does not allow doctors whose negligence is superseded by other doctors’ negligence to be absolved of liability. Lovell called that issue “an unsettled area of Georgia law.” Wright said Gingrey’s political role — the congressman is in the middle of a re-election campaign — did not drive any of the case, noting that the trial date was set six months ago. As for Gingrey’s views, Wright added, “I vote Republican on almost every issue” — except tort reform. He called suggestions of a $250,000 limit on his client’s pain and suffering, for example, “ridiculous.” MORE INFORMATION FOR JURIES Another change Gingrey supports is what he calls “collateral source disclosure,” which means a jury weighing whether to award damages to a plaintiff would be notified if a plaintiff already received Social Security or disability benefits. William T. Clark, a lobbyist with the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, said his group would support collateral source disclosure only if juries were also told when a defendant’s damages would be paid not personally but by insurance companies. J. Rick Crawford, a Cedartown general practice lawyer who is Gingrey’s Democratic challenger, said he would not make Gingrey’s court case an issue in his campaign. Crawford said he opposes limits on damages for pain and suffering. “I don’t support things that arbitrarily dictate to the courts what the outcome of a case will be regardless of the unique circumstances,” Crawford said. But he added that virtually no one in the 11th District has asked him about tort reform. Instead, he is focusing his campaign on what he said are lost jobs in the district — which runs along Georgia’s west border from Chattooga County to Columbus — and education and health care.

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