In Memoriam: Richard’s Obituary

Center for Justice & Democracy has lost a great ally: fiery patient advocate Richard Dustin Flagg. Richard, a longtime resident of Jersey City, New Jersey, died on September 8, 2003 due to complications from medical malpractice. He was 63.

Despite great physical limitations, Richard traveled twice this year to Washington DC – driving himself in his own van - to fight anti-patient medical malpractice legislation, H.R. 5/S. 11, that would have severely limited patients’ legal rights. During one of these trips, he testified before a forum on medical malpractice organized by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Democrats. His testimony is below.

Richard touched everyone who met him. His case of malpractice was horrific and indisputable. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with a benign bleeding tumor in one of his lungs. He went into surgery to have the tumor removed, but the surgeon removed the wrong (healthy) lung. As a result, he was forced to live the rest of his life with one lung, which was diseased. He needed oxygen 24 hours a day and was permanently connected to oxygen tanks he carried on an electric cart that he rode wherever he went.

Richard was a Vietnam veteran. Before this incident which cut short his life, he was a strapping man, having worked as a barge captain in the U.S. Merchant Marines piloting ships in New York harbor.

Despite the deterioration of his health caused by the medical malpractice, Richard seized the opportunity to fight anti-patient legislation in Congress. He wanted to make sure that patients who were hurt by their healthcare providers could hold those providers accountable and receive fair compensation for their suffering.

In addition to traveling to Washington D.C. two times to testify and speak with members of Congress, he was also an “Internet activist,” telling his story online so that others would understand the dangers of medical malpractice and “tort reform.” In July 2003, Richard was too ill to return to Washington to lobby against S. 11, on which the Senate was about to vote (the bill did not pass). After several bouts in the hospital over the next few months, Richard died.

Richard’s medical malpractice ultimately proved fatal. Yet, while he could, Richard fought back with a terrific spirit. He used his intelligence, warmth and remaining strength to fight the powers that had put him in jeopardy and threatened to deny justice to medical malpractice victims. His friendliness, fearlessness, and no-holds-barred truth-telling was an inspiration to the activists and advocates who had the honor to work with him.

Richard is survived by his friend, Edith Bickoff, two sons, Rick Dustin Flagg, Jr. and Geoffrey Kyler Flagg, a brother, Kenneth, and a sister, Nancy Kuntz. At Center for Justice & Democracy, our hearts go out to his loved ones. We will miss him.


Richard Flagg’s statement at the February 11, 2003 Forum on Malpractice hosted by U.S. Representative John Conyers*:

Thank you for allowing this forum, and thank you to Public Citizen and the Center for Justice & Democracy for caring. My name is Richard Flagg, and I'm 62 years old. I reside in Jersey City, New Jersey. I'm a veteran from Vietnam, a father, and a victim of malpractice.

In September 2000, I was admitted to the hospital in New Jersey to have a simple, small tumor from my left lung. At the time it was considered to be optional surgery, and the only reason I was there was because I was having bleeding problems if I ever had a lung infection. So I went in with that thought in mind, and the doctors paid no attention to protocol. The hospital paid no attention to protocol. They wheeled me into the operating room without asking why I was there, what I was going to be operated on for, and as a consequence, the tumor that was in my left lung is still in my left lung, and three quarters of my right lung is gone, the healthy lung. I'm now confined 24 hours a day, seven days a week to an oxygen hose.

Two years ago I was a barge captain in the United States Merchant Marines. I could walk at a fast pace from bow to stern of a 300-foot ship in a very short time. I was strong. I was in good shape. Today I'm a physical wreck. I'm an emotional wreck. All of this was done to me, but is that why we're here? That's part of it. The biggest part of it is what's happening today.

The tail is definitely wagging the dog. The insurance companies are being allowed to put out misinformation, to talk about things that aren't true. They're allowed to overcharge. Now, I'm somewhat of an amateur historian, and I do have a degree in history, as well as one in biology and a minor in chemistry, and it seems to me that back in 1789 when the Constitution of the United States was written our forefathers had in mind one thing. Justice in this country was to be decided by a jury of our peers. This is not true today. It is in criminal cases. It is in murders. It is in robberies. It isn't in medical malpractice.

If Mr. Bush has his way and the states that already have these caps on certain parts of tort reform, this is what we can look forward to getting worse and worse. I made a quote on a forum on a Web site last week in New Jersey. Someone asked me how do you feel about what's happening with tort reform. I answered it very simply. Once you start taking a person's individual rights and freedoms of our American citizens away, where does it stop? It doesn't, and I referenced Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and so forth down the line. I received 125 answers, all of them saying thank you; we didn't know.

There is our problem today. It's mostly misinformation or lack of information. I would like to see people in this room, each one become ambassadors to this. Talk as hard and as long as you can to stop what's happened. That's what we need more than anything else. Thank you very much.

*Forum on Malpractice: Hearing Hosted by U.S. Representative John Conyers, 108th Cong. 69-72 (Feb. 11, 2003), at

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