WASHINGTON – A woman who had a double mastectomy following a laboratory mixup and a couple whose young son died of dehydration play lead roles in ads designed to stir opposition to legislation capping jury awards in medical malpractice cases.

“I’ve got 31 inches of scars on my chest,” Linda McDougal says in a television commercial that begins airing this Wednesday in seven states. “… A group of politicians wants to take my rights to a trial by jury away.”

The ads mark the latest salvo in a struggle over Republican-backed legislation to limit medical malpractice awards. The House has passed a White House-endorsed measure to cap pain and suffering awards at $250,000 and limit punitive damages as well. Senate Republicans have made the bill a priority, but there is no date set for debate.

The commercials are backed by two activist groups, USAction and the Center for Justice and Democracy. A spokeswoman said the three commercials will run at a cost of roughly $225,000.

That’s a relatively small amount for ads in seven states, but Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice and Democracy, called it an initial effort. “We have every intention of continuing this campaign as soon as we get some clarity” on the Senate’s schedule for the legislation, she said.

The issue pits deep-pocketed special interests against one another – doctors and hospitals on one side, trial lawyers on the other. The American Hospital Association and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America ran competing ads earlier this year in the days leading to House passage of the measure.

Supporters of the bill say it is needed to prevent the loss of coverage by providers being squeezed by skyrocketing malpractice premiums. Critics argue a cap denies victims of medical malpractice their rights.

One of the new ads features the mother and father of a 2-year-old boy who died of dehydration. The child is shown in an oversized cowboy hat, drinking from his baby bottle while his parents mourn their loss.

“All he needed was an IV … It’s unheard of in the United States. You don’t lose children to dehydration,” says the child’s mother, Shawnna Gardner.

“They lose one of their sons or daughters to medical malpractice, they won’t be concerned about putting caps on damages,” says the boy’s father, Vern Gardner, referring to the bill’s critics.

In the third commercial, a young boy buying a candy bar is told the cost is $14.03. “But it’s only a candy bar,” he says. “Yeah, but my investments lost a lot of money. So, I’m gouging my customers,” the store owner replies.

The ads will run in Idaho, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Vermont from Wednesday through Sunday.

AP-ES-04-21-03 1840EDT

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