Family of medical malpractice victim speak out against proposed legislation

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WEST DES MOINES – Iowans who are severely injured by medical errors could be facing limited awards from lawsuits.

That is because of a controversial bill at the Statehouse. But one West Des Moines family who has already gone through the process, is speaking out against the legislation.

For 20 year old T.J. Denham, life isn’t so easy. He can’t walk, swallow food or speak. He even has to use sign language to talk to his family.

With help from his parents, T.J. told Local 5, “I’ve lost a lot.”

But it wasn’t always like this. T.J. was a student at Valley High School. His parents described him as kind and outgoing.

“He was just a really easy kid, always did what he was supposed to be doing,” said Kelly Denham, T.J.’s mother.

But after getting surgery at age 16, T.J.’s life was changed forever. He woke up with a traumatic brain injury because of the surgeon’s mistake. Luckily, his parents were able to avoid paying for the damages on their own.

“It was a relief to us to be able to get a settlement that we can use to take care of him,” Kelly Denham said. “He’s obviously living at home right now, and we’re using those funds to provide for him.”

But the Denham family says the new legislation at the Statehouse will negatively impact families like theirs who want justice.

It would cap limits on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, at $250,000. It would also require a certificate of merit to screen whether litigation is strong enough to move forward.

The Denham family says the bill is an attack on victims like their son.

“Families like us who have a child who’s this bad, would have no recourse,” said Travis Denham, T.J.’s father. “I mean that limit, it makes it impossible. You couldn’t even take it to court because most attorneys aren’t going to touch it or want any part of it.”

Advocates fighting for families like the Denham family agree.

“Medical negligence cases are very very expensive,” said Brad Lint, the Executive Director of the Iowa Association for Justice. “Limiting damages means that in many cases it will be economically impossible for people to bring the suits in the first place, so some people will lose their rights all together under a bill like this.”

But Republicans say the bill is necessary for the healthcare system in Iowa to flourish.

“The cost of malpractice insurance is one of the things that  physicians consider heavily when they’re deciding where they want to go practice,” said Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines. “We have some of the highest, if not the highest, for certain specialties of malpractice premiums in the Midwest, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s hard for us to attract and retain doctors.”

But as the Denham family continues to take each day step by step, they say if they hadn’t already settled their case, the pending legislation would be a huge hurdle for them.

“If that law was passed and we came after that, we’d be on our own, I mean there’s nothing we could do,” Travis Denham said.

Legislation limiting medical malpractice lawsuits has already passed the Iowa Senate. A similar bill is expected to be debated in the Iowa House soon.

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