I read with disgust your article about Bill Shoemaker (From Fame to Shame, April 19). His situation is a microcosm of this country, where people increasingly refuse to be accountable for their own actions and expect the rest of society to pick up the costs. Ironically, if there had been a guardrail where his car swerved off Route 30, it might well have bounced his car back onto the road and straight into Rebecca Byrd's car. And if Shoemaker had turned Byrd into yet another infuriating drunk-driving statistic, he would probably now find himself on the other side of the courtroom, as a defendant, not pursuing a legal windfall at the taxpayers' expense.
I was disgusted to read about Shoemaker's lawsuits and lack of responsibility. His pitiful state has nothing to do with Ford's engineering, the state of California's road system or the actions of the medical staff at Glendora Community Hospital. It has to do with the fact that Shoemaker drove when he was drunk.
Shoemaker's lawsuits against the hospital and doctors who treated him—and most likely saved his life—are examples of why medical costs in this country are soaring. President Clinton needs no better example than Shoemaker to show why our health-care system will eventually exhaust our financial resources. Taxpayers shouldn't bear the cost of an accident that was ultimately caused by an individual's misjudgment.
As a physician who has had quite a lot of experience in the treatment and management of acutely ill and severely injured patients, I am especially incensed at Shoemaker's suit. It is absurd for him to imply that his elevated blood alcohol level was due to iatrogenic causes—that is, because of his doctor's actions. Generally a critically injured patient is never given so much as aspirin until the extent of the injuries is known.
As for his allegations that his quadriplegic state was induced by his intubation, that is also ridiculous. It has been my experience that any patient in a cervical collar whose spine has not been "cleared" radiographically would be intubated in the same manner—that is, without moving his head.
As for the physician's notes stating that "the patient rolled his shoulders" being proof that Shoemaker was not paralyzed at that point, it is well known that quadriplegic (and paraplegic) patients experience involuntary muscle jerking, especially immediately after the event. In some patients there is persistent jerking and spasm that is uncontrollable and continues unless treated with muscle relaxers on a continual basis.
I have had the privilege of working with many paralyzed patients, some as young as 15 years old, at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research here in Houston. I have never known any of these people to lose their dignity the way Bill Shoemaker has lost his. After all, it is one of the few things that paralysis cannot take away. You have to throw it away.
SUSAN W. FAN, M.D.
The people really at fault in this matter, the real saps, are the American jurors who routinely hand out vast sums in unjustified awards. These jurors apparently think there is a Santa Claus somewhere who comes up with this money. There isn't. It comes from all of us who pay taxes, pay for insurance, pay for products that have to be insured against fraudulent claims. If American jurors don't come to their senses, we will continue to have immoral lawyers and greedy clients gouging us for everything they can get.
JIM LACEY JR.
The treatment Shoemaker received in your article was disgraceful. While I realize you tried to be fair, I wish you had stuck to showing how Shoemaker and his family are trying to adjust to his cruel fate. Can any one of us say we would not file one or more lawsuits if we were in a similar situation? And I'm sure there are very few people who can claim they have never driven home after happy hour. These legal matters are best left to the lawyers and court system to decide. The general public is not the judge.
My thoughts and prayers are with Shoemaker, his family and friends as they try to cope day to day. I wish him all the best as a trainer.