Santorum pushed to limit malpractice awards but sought larger payout for wife
On the campaign trail, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum says he will push to limit payments to victims in medical malpractice lawsuits, which he blames for unnecessarily driving up health-care costs. And over the course of his two decades in politics, he repeatedly spoke in favor of capping such awards.
But Santorum testified in support of his wife when she filed a medical malpractice suit in 1999 that sought $500,000, twice the cap in his original legislative proposal. Karen Santorum claimed that a Fairfax chiropractor had left her with a permanent back injury that probably would result in a lifetime of pain medication and restricted mobility.
This fall, while campaigning in Iowa, Santorum told reporters he backed some limits, but that his wife did not sue for “pain and suffering, which is the area I think we should cap.”
Although the lawsuit did not seek a specific figure for pain and suffering, the former senator testified in the case about the emotional and physical toll on his wife and how that justified a sizable monetary award, transcripts show. The judge in the case also made clear that the majority of the $350,000 the jury awarded the family was largely for unspecific losses and pain and suffering, which he concluded was “excessive.”
Santorum’s campaign advisers and spokesman did not respond to repeated requests by phone and e-mail for comment. But he has said in the past that there was no conflict between his testimony in his wife’s medical suit and his push to curtail payments to victims of medical malpractice.
Opponents of limiting malpractice claims disagree.
“It’s pretty hypocritical of him,” said Steven Bergstein, an Allentown, Pa., lawyer who represents medical victims in malpractice cases as well as corporations. “Politicians complain about these kinds of claims, but when they speak out publicly, they don’t think about the real people affected by these tragic events. When they are the real person affected, suddenly they have a totally different view.”
The lawsuit stemmed from a family tragedy, when in 1996 Karen Santorum gave birth prematurely to the couple’s fourth child, a son who died the same day. Suffering lower back pain after the delivery, Karen Santorum sought out a Burke chiropractor, David Dolberg, for help.
Dolberg performed a spinal manipulation, which he and other experts testified was standard, recommended therapy for her symptoms. Karen Santorum said that the treatment caused a herniated disc in her spine, which was surgically removed a week later. Dolberg declined to comment.