IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A doctors’ group at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has paid $150,000 to settle a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by the estate of a prominent law professor who died of colon cancer in 2011.
The payment from UI Physicians to the estate of David Baldus resolves a lawsuit that alleged doctors failed to screen, diagnose and treat his colon condition in the years before the brilliant legal scholar died at age 75, according to a settlement obtained by The Associated Press under the public records law. The Dec. 20 settlement, which does not admit any wrongdoing, avoids a trial that had been scheduled for this month.
The estate’s attorney, Jim Hayes, said that Baldus’ wife and two daughters were happy to have the case resolved “in a very careful and professional way.”
“Dave Baldus was a pre-eminent scholar and just a wonderful man, a humanitarian. It was a tragic death,” Hayes said Tuesday. “We’re just pleased that it is finished.”
Baldus joined the University of Iowa College of Law faculty in 1969 and became known for groundbreaking data-based research on racial discrimination in the law, particularly in the administration of the death penalty.
A landmark study he authored in the 1980s, based on 2,000 executions in Georgia, showed that black people accused of killing white victims had the greatest likelihood of receiving a death sentence. Critics of capital punishment seized on the study as proof it was arbitrarily carried out and discriminatory. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 decision in 1987 that Baldus’ study did not prove the practice violated the constitutional guarantee of equal rights.
Still teaching and doing research into his 70s, Baldus went to UIHC in January 2010 complaining that he was suffering intense abdominal pain and mental distractibility. The lawsuit said that as a result of the symptoms, he was forced to cancel class for the first time in 40 years.
Doctors diagnosed him with a type of bowel dysfunction, which they believed was caused by pain medicine he had been taking after breaking ribs during a fall the previous month. But two days later, he returned in more pain and was soon diagnosed with colon cancer.
The lawsuit alleged that Baldus had undergone a colonoscopy in 2004 to remove a small polyp that he was told was benign, and that doctors at UIHC recommended he have another colonoscopy in five years as a precautionary measure. In the following years, doctors were aware of the recommendation, but the follow-up procedure was never scheduled despite Baldus’ wishes, the lawsuit claimed.
“On multiple occasions, Mr. Baldus asked for and requested a repeat colonoscopy,” the lawsuit stated. “He was told he did not need one.”
Baldus died June 13, 2011, after a lengthy battle with cancer, which included chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Baldus had started meeting with Hayes to discuss the case. They filed a claim against the state in April 2011, which grew into a lawsuit against the hospital and its employees filed in February 2012 in Johnson County.
The lawsuit said that Baldus was unfairly deprived a chance to receive early treatment and “realizing the resulting increase in life expectancy and physical and mental comfort.” It sought damages for lost income and pain and suffering.
Hayes said that getting to know Baldus better was a positive experience that came out of a sad situation.
“It was one of those few times in a wrongful death case where I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the client and live with him through his last days,” Hayes said. “He was a great source of inspiration for any of us on how to look at something like this and to accept the dying process. He just faced death with such courage and acceptance. It just made him all the much more a huge figure among us.”
Lawyers representing the hospital generally denied the claims of negligence, and both sides had been ready to call expert witnesses to make their cases at trial. University spokesman Tom Moore declined comment Tuesday.