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  Tragedy Highlights Danger of Legal "Reforms"



Little Steven Olsen's Story

Kathy and Scott Olsens' California dream turned into an American nightmare the day Steven, their 2-year-old son, fell during a family outing and got a twig lodged in his cheek.

During a 1992 outing, the Olsens' 2-year-old son Steven tripped and fell, causing a twig to lodge in his cheek. The Olsens, following the instructions of their health plan, went to a hospital of the insurer's choice. Days later, Steven developed fevers and headaches, which were twice dismissed by examining doctors. The doctors refused the Olsens' request for an MRI and ignored their concerns that these pains might be related to his injury.

Steven's condition kept getting worse. Finally, weeks later, he got a brain scan. It showed an abscess in his brain, caused by the stick, which was inducing seizures. Because he had been left untreated for so long, Steven went blind and developed cerebral palsy.

Kathy and Scott found out later that their health plan knew all along about the possibility of a brain abscess, even as the HMO was forbidding Steven to get a brain scan or to see a neurologist. The Olsens filed suit against the medical group.

A jury hearing these facts awarded Steven $7 million for the life of pain and suffering he now faces. But under California's "one-size-fits-all" cap on non-economic damages, Steven was awarded just $250,000 -- an amount that in no way can adequately compensate him or his parents.

Their anger only grew when the award granted the Olsens by a jury was slashed to just $250,000 under California's "one-size-fits-all" cap on "non-economic" injuries like Steven's blindness and other permanent disabilities-an amount that no way can adequately compensate Steven or his family for this tragedy.

The Olsens have vigorously testified both in California and Washington, DC, about the dangers of unaccountable managed care insurance plans and the damage done by award caps, and will continue to do so in the future. What happened to this family is a tragedy. It would be more tragic still if our leaders didn't learn from their experience.

Kathy and Scott Olsen and their attorney Michael Padilla were recognized with the 1997 Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award for their unwavering battle against the unfairness of medical malpractice caps and their lobbying efforts against such legislation both in California and in Congress.


Republished with permission of the Associationof Trial Lawyers of America.