David Rosenbaum’s family and its attorney, Pat Regan
(March 2007)

David Rosenbaum, 63, a New York Times reporter, died two days after his mugging on streets of Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2006. He shouldn’t have died, according to a report of the D.C. inspector general, which said that he received “third world” medical care. The report found that D.C. paramedics mistakenly assumed the unconscious Rosenbaum was drunk and failed to recognize his injuries. After he was taken to Howard University Hospital, he was treated as a low-priority case and was not examined by a doctor for more than 90 minutes despite clear evidence of head trauma.

Rosenbaum’s family filed lawsuits against the city and the hospital that looked like a probable winners, given the facts of the case. But in a decision that is as ethically laudable as it is a stroke of luck for the financially strapped city, the family decided that some things are more important than money. It forged a settlement with D.C. that forgoes any financial damages for the family (or reward for its attorney, Pat Regan) in exchange for the creation of a task force that will make recommendations within six months on ways of improving the District’s emergency medical services. The family has agreed to dismiss the District from the suit, but retains the right to refile within one year if it is not satisfied by the District’s efforts.

The family is still pursuing claims against Howard University Hospital. But in trading in its right to damages against the city to spur the notoriously sluggish D.C. government to make needed changes in its long-criticized emergency services, the Rosenbaums are performing a genuinely selfless, generous and public-spirited act. This is how the tort system is supposed to work, by encouraging and forcing those who harmed others by their negligence to take steps to prevent it from happening again. Too often, the family of a victim will treat its tragedy only as an opportunity to maximize financial damages, and will show no concern for others who may suffer the same fate in the future. The Rosenbaums probably jeopardized their own chances of recovering damages by their deal with the District, but they vastly increased the likelihood of better care for the targets of violent thugs, and there are many, in the Nation’s Capital. For that they have the Scoreboard’s respect and admiration, and in Pat Regan they obviously have a lawyer who can stand as an ethics role model for his much-maligned profession.

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