Wrongful death lawsuit filed as lawmakers debate caps on damages from medical lawsuits

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 8:25 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Christina Nash was planning to travel back to Johnson County. She said her Dad, Michael Dreckman, was recovering from quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery. Two days after the operation, he began sitting up and walking.

“Dad, each day, he’s getting better,” Nash said “They really were seeing him being able to go out of ICU and then from there for maybe another day and then be released to go home,”

Michael Dreckman never made it out of the hospital. Instead, Nash found her Dad in the dark, slumped over, dying in the hospital.

“That picture doesn’t go away,” she said. “And he’s there and you can see him and you knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t look right. And I thought if I touched him, if I wake him up, he’d be like I was napping.”

Nash said she saw her Dad’s monitor flashing red, making noises and blinking. She said she ran to get a nurse, who performed chest compressions and used an electric shock to restore his heartbeat. About 30 minutes later, Michael Dreckman was pronounced dead.

According to a medical negligence lawsuit filed Tuesday, his family said staff at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City gave him “a toxic dose of amiodarone” and then didn’t provide care for five minutes while he flatlined in his hospital bed. The gap in care, the lawsuit said, could have saved Michael’s life.

Lawsuit by Ethan Stein on Scribd

Michaela Feldman, who is the regional communication lead for MercyOne, said the healthcare provider is saddened by the loss of Mr. Dreckman in a written statement. She also said their thoughts and prayers are with the family.

“Safety of our patients, colleagues and communities is a top priority at MercyOne,” Feldman wrote. “As this is an active legal matter, we are unable to provide further comment.”

MercyOne, according to the Iowa Legislature, is one of many different medical and insurance groups asking the legislature to pass Senate File 148 and House File 171. The two bills would create limits on the amount of money people could receive for noneconomic damages and is a priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

Gov. Kim Reynolds said the legislation would make Iowa more competitive in attracting doctors and OB-GYNs. She said these types of changes would help Iowans, specifically rural Iowans, get access to quality care.

“Mothers and fathers should not have to worry about if an OBGYN or physician is available in their community,” Gov. Reynolds said. “Those who should be held accountable will be, but for those who are practicing safely and correctly, we have to provide them with security or else our entire medical system falls into jeopardy.”

Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Crawford County) said he’s supportive of this legislation because it would help lower insurance premiums for hospitals as well.

“Now I have the Denison CEO telling me their number one issue, the thing that keeps her up at night is fearing the next day she gets a notice of a lawsuit that exceeds their ability to buy insurance,” Sen. Schlts said. “I don’t know what the west-central Iowa area would do if Denison stopped for financial services offering medical services.”

Dr. Craig Mahoney, an orthopedic surgeon in Des Moines, said he loses candidates for orthopedic surgery slots on a yearly basis to states surrounding Iowa.

David Hyman, who studies the effects on caps in medical lawsuits across the United States at Georgetown University, said there’s no evidence the number of doctors in a state is higher because it has a cap on damages in lawsuits other than plastic surgeons. He said the state needs to focus on other reasons a doctor might not want to live in Iowa like salary or quality of life. Hyman also said people can still earn millions in settlements and verdicts in medical lawsuits because there is no limit on economic damages.

For example, more than $40 Million of a $97.4 million verdict was for a child’s future medical costs after a baby received a fracture to its skull during birth.

Nora Freeman Engstrom, who is a law professor at Stanford University, also said there’s no evidence in research data showing adding caps increased the supply of doctors in a state. She said it’s far-fetched somebody leaves an entire state because they might make a mistake one day in their lives.

“That’s a lot of things to go wrong,” Freeman Engstrom said. “And very few people make decisions in a real-world way based on that kind of really extenuating feeling.”

Lucinda Finley, who is a professor of Law at the SUNY Buffalo, said there are few positives in adding a cap to these types of lawsuits except increasing insurance company profits. She said in an email there isn’t “a shred” of empirical evidence for the benefits advocates discuss while debating the legislation.

“In my opinion, I think that the insurance companies have done a good job of leading doctors to believe that caps will help reduce their premiums, and have done an even better job of convincing politicians that caps will encourage more doctors to practice in their state or will reduce the exodus of doctors,” Finley wrote in an email.

Sen. Jeff Taylor (R-Sioux County), who represents the Dreckman family in the state legislature, said he is among the minority of Republicans in the Senate not supporting the bill.

Regardless the result at the State Capitol or the lawsuit, the Dreckmans said they won’t get what they really want back - Michael Dreckman.