Cerebral palsy: what Edwards knew

by Walter Olson on February 2, 2004

Vigorous discussion of this topic (see Jan. 31, Jan. 26, Jan. 20) continues at several weblogs, with Franco Castalone (posts I and II, both on Feb. 1) pursuing perhaps the most sustained critique of our commentaries.


We think Castalone caricatures some of our views on Edwards, but we’ll let that pass, since readers are capable of following the past links if they want to see what we said. We are thoroughly puzzled, however, at his suggestion that attorney Edwards would not reasonably have had his attention directed to the dangers of “junk science” in this area until the landmark study of last January (direct link), which of course came after the end of his active practice. Obviously, we don’t want to beat up on Edwards for not anticipating discoveries that came only after was handling his cases. So what was the relevant timing?

Edwards argued his first cerebral palsy case in 1985 and was pressing such cases at least through 1995, according to the NYT. As the Times notes, “in the 1980’s, scientists began to challenge the premise that medical care during delivery had much to do with cerebral palsy.” A two-volume report from the Institute of Medicine, entitled Medical Professional Liability and the Delivery of Obstetrical Care, in the course of exploring its subject, built a substantial case that many obstetricians were being wrongly sued. It appeared in 1989. In his widely reviewed book Galileo’s Revenge, which was and remains the leading popular work assailing “junk science”, my Manhattan Institute colleague Peter Huber accords a central role (and a full chapter) to cases charging obstetricians with causing cerebral palsy. Huber’s language in discussing those cases is far more caustically negative than mine. Galileo’s Revenge appeared in 1991. It’s true that important additional studies have been done in the years since then, which have helped confirm and extend the consensus view reflected in last January’s ACOG/AAP study (whose findings, it should be noted, have been endorsed by the federal government’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as numerous other authorities). But to say no one was sounding the alarm about junk science in CP cases until after Edwards was through handling such cases seems plainly wrong.

To reiterate once more, as I’ve done in earlier posts: none of this prevents Edwards from advancing the view (which he has, more or less, advanced in recent days) that no matter what the weaknesses in other lawyers’ cases, he himself was careful to screen cases with great care and select only those with a very strong factual and scientific predicate. Nor does it speak to the question, much bruited recently, of how hard a lawyer should be screening the scientific basis of his cases (only hard enough to assure himself that questionable evidence will indeed be admissible, or harder than that?) We have a feeling we’ll be coming back to discuss that latter question, as well, since lots of commentators seem to be interested in it.

{ 5 comments }

1 Notes from the (Legal) Underground 02.02.04 at 5:43 pm

John Edwards Cont.

There’s been some great insight on the John Edwards-“junk science” issue (which began with a comment by Walter Olson at overlawyered.com), from blog 702 , David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy, more from overlawyered, and from Franco Castalone at the

2 Notes from the (Legal) Underground 02.02.04 at 5:45 pm

John Edwards Cont.

There’s been some great insight on the John Edwards-“junk science” issue (which began with a comment by Walter Olson at overlawyered.com), from blog 702, David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy, more from overlawyered, and from Franco Castalone at the…

3 PointOfLaw Forum 07.06.04 at 11:18 am

Kerry taps Edwards — has Trial Lawyers, Inc. entered the race?

The big news of the day is that presidential contendor John Kerry has tapped fellow senator John Edwards of North Carolina to be his running mate. As most Americans are aware, Edwards grew up the son of a textile mill…

4 PointOfLaw Forum 07.16.04 at 12:44 pm

Edwards’s cerebral palsy cases: a good perspective

There’s an excellent column in today’s Wall Street Journal on John Edwards’s history of trying infant cerebral palsy cases. The piece is written by David Robinson, not the former NBA MVP (who was given a Simon Award for public service…

5 Overlawyered 11.28.05 at 8:28 pm

Taxpayers on hook for $60.9M cerebral palsy case

Lawyers blame Jacksonville Navy hospital doctors for Kevin Bravo Rodriguez’s several cerebral palsy (Nov. 12; Nov. 4, 2004; Feb. 2, 2004; Aug. 13, 2003; etc.). He cannot see, speak, swallow, or move his arms and…

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