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Was Virginia Governor’$ Veto GrandStanding on Medical Malpractice Cap$ and Reform$?

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Would a governor of a state — think a state that starts with a “V” — veto a medical malpractice reform bill merely to look good because of future national political aspirations? The answer appears to be an absolute yes. And, yes, those dollar signs were on purpose in the title of this blog article.

There are brave vetoes. And there are the opposite kind. Guess which this was.

That governor, Bob McDonnell, is already dodging charges of hypocrisy because he vetoed a hard-fought medical malpractice reform compromise that passed the Virginia (VA) State Senate unanimously, and passed by an 89-7 vote in the Virginia Republican-controlled House of Delegates. In other words, Governor McDonnell is clearly aware that the democratically controlled Senate, and the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, already have the votes to override his veto of the medical malpractice bill which would very slightly increase medical malpractice caps for the next decade. Just yesterday, I posted the article "Medical Malpractice Cap Increase Vetoed in VA, Victims of Doctors’ Errors Suffer" and there are many others that believe that medical malpractice reforms or caps harm our justice system.

So, you may ask, why would Virginia’s Republican governor veto the hard-fought compromise that his Republican colleagues approved after than a year of negotiations amongst legislators? Is that what the Virginia voters expected from their governator? By the way, Virginia does not allow second terms for governor’s either, but that’s besides the point.

The answer is that Governor McD is grooming his resume for a run at national office whether it be vice president or president. Wouldn’t it be nice to say that you vetoed “reckless” medical malpractice legislation which would unfairly increase medical malpractice caps and cause damage to the medical providers and hospitals?

Ugh, it might make you look good if Virginia didn’t already have one of the most conservative (possibly unconstitutional) all-inclusive medical malpractice caps of any state in the nation! And it would make you look good except for the fact that the bill is only going to allow that existing medical malpractice cap to increase by $50,000 per year for the next decade despite spiraling health care costs and the argument that a $2 million all-inclusive medical malpractice cap is already far too unfair for victims, not for the doctors and hospitals. For example, a patient who suffers brain damaged as a result of clear medical malpractice who may need lifetime medical care costing $10 million is limited, against the doctors and hospitals, to a total recovery of less than $2 million under the present VA medical malpractice law. The new bill would simply allow for a $50,000.00 increase per year of the existing medical malpractice cap in Virginia.

This is the ultimate political hypocrisy. Governor McD knows the bill will become law but he will say he was against it. For what reason? This is the ultimate "pad your resume" move because all political pundits and legislators know the veto is essentially meaningless.

McDonnell probably called in the top Republican legislators and told them to go ahead and override his veto but that this move was going to really look good when he mounts his vice presidential or presidential bid. Clearly, Republicans feel that McDonnell is a good candidate on the national landscape and one cannot fault them for looking for new rising stars.

However, whoever is advising McDonnell about his political resume clearly made a poor decision on this one. Any reasonable voter can read between the lines and understand that this was political currency only, that McDonnell abandoned his Republican legislators, ignored reasonable compromise legislation, and totally grandstanded. It is so transparent, particularly because of the underlying vote in the Virginia House and Senate, that McDonnell takes three steps backwards with this vote. Moreover, until the legislature overrides his veto and makes this law, the already-unfair and unconstitutional Virginia medical malpractice cap will not increase and to obtain increases still requires legislative action.

By the way, McDonnell issued a press release saying that his veto was in support of hospitals, doctors and patients. It is ludicrous to think he McDonnell was considering harmed patients like the ones who have millions of dollars in future medical expense, who are capped by less than $2 million recoveries in the State of Virginia. No, he was not considering patients with this politically unwise veto, rather he was considering his future national political career.

One thing is for certain: this veto is going to come back and bite him in the rear end. The Democrats will bite him in the rear with it, and any Republican moderate will bite him in the rear end with it because he completely ignored the wishes of his own Republican legislators in the State of Virginia.

This is almost like running up the score 44-0 in a football game, keeping the first string in, and throwing the long bomb with a minute left in the game.

This is like scoring another touchdown and spiking the ball in the end zone in front of the other team when you’re already up 63-0 and taunting and dancing in front of the other team in the end zone. Except, in this case, McDonnell is taunting the victims of malpractice caps in Virginia that are already robbed of fair compensation, and he then gets in a brawl with one of his own teammates. Picture the Republican legislators who worked for the compromise only to have him trash their efforts.

There are brave vetoes. And there are the opposite kind. Guess which this was.

About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.