NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Harvey Frederick Wachsman, M.D., J.D., F.C.L.M. of New York, New York, a prominent attorney, writer and commentator on public health and other issues, name partner in one of the largest plaintiffs medical malpractice law firms in the country, and a former trustee of the State University of New York, passed away peacefully surrounded by family on December 19, 2021 at ArchCare at Mary Manning Walsh Home in Manhattan, New York. He was 85 years old.
Among the positions Dr. Wachsman held over the course of his life were: Partner, Pegalis & Wachsman; President, American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys; Board member, American Trial Lawyers Association, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, and the American College of Legal Medicine, among many others. He co-authored The American Law of Medical Malpractice and authored Lethal Medicine: The Epidemic of Medical Malpractice in America.
A physician himself, as an attorney he became a fierce advocate for protecting the public from negligent medical care. His high-profile cases often drew significant media attention and his insights on public policy often attracted support from members of both political parties.
Born on June 13, 1936 in Brooklyn, Dr. Wachsman was the eldest son of Ben Wachsman and Mollie Wachsman (née Kugel). Growing up in a one-bedroom apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, he became the first person in his family to receive secondary education, graduating two years early from Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York.
At 20 years old, Dr. Wachsman graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and four years later graduated from Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Illinois.
While completing his neurosurgical residency at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Wachsman would frequently attend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church and Atlanta Braves games, where the PA announcer would often introduce him to stadium attendees as the “young Dr. Kildare.”
During the Vietnam War, Dr. Wachsman volunteered for the US Army National Guard, leading troopers stateside in New York, Georgia, and Florida before receiving an honorable discharge in 1970 at the rank of Captain.
Dr. Wachsman moved to Connecticut, and was soon elected Chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners in Newtown. He was then elected President of the Police Commissioners Association of Connecticut, where he drafted far-reaching proposals for precincts across the state.
While still practicing medicine, he graduated from Brooklyn Law School. He then changed the focus of his career and co-founded Pegalis & Wachsman in Great Neck, New York, which grew rapidly and became a well-respected and prominent plaintiffs’ medical malpractice law firm. Dr. Wachsman was soon nationally recognized as a preeminent trial lawyer, winning many challenging and noteworthy cases.
Dr. Wachsman became a fixture on national and cable television networks, entering the public debate with great frequency on talk shows like 60 Minutes, CNN Crossfire, Charlie Rose, Morton Downey Jr., Sally Jessy Raphael, Montel Williams, and Geraldo Rivera. As an advocate for public welfare, he was regularly featured by the country’s leading periodicals and contributed dozens of op-eds to newspapers such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
Dr. Wachsman was the co-author of American Law of Medical Malpractice, a legal treatise expanded over time to four volumes and the definitive textbook series covering the intersection of medicine and law. He was the author of Lethal Medicine: The Epidemic of Medical Malpractice in America, a non-fiction work published by Henry Holt that further expanded the national conversation over health care.
Dr. Wachsman’s advocacy and activity were often featured in the news. In 1984, Dr. Wachsman brought forth a $130 million lawsuit against the government of apartheid South Africa, claiming that Barry Martin, a Black American dancer, was left quadripeligic due to medical malpractice and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment in part due to racist policies. In 1988 and on behalf of dozens of female plaintiffs, Dr. Wachsman successfully developed a sustainable theory of negligence and sued “The Love Surgeon,” an Ohio-based physician who had, for more than two decades, performed experimental surgery wherein he mutilated women because they were allegedly ”structurally inadequate,” without their informed consent.
In March 1988, he made international press when, after midnight and hurriedly en route to a Manhattan hospital with his wife Kathryn in labor, he was forced to stop the car upon her urgent request. Despite complications and near total darkness, with just a shoelace, Dr. Wachsman safely delivered his child in the backseat of their car on the Grand Central Parkway. Headline writers had a field day.
After more than 32 years of school and training and in accord with a life uplifted through education, Dr. Wachsman pursued many opportunities to teach. Throughout his career, he served as a full professor at Brooklyn Law School, as an adjunct professor at St. John’s Law School, as an adjunct professor of neurosurgery for the State University of New York and on the faculty of the University of South Florida College of Medicine. He lectured at undergraduate and graduate schools throughout the Ivy League and at universities across America. In 1995, Dr. Wachsman was nominated by Governor George Pataki and confirmed by the New York State Senate as a member of the State University of New York Board of Trustees, where he helped administer the largest comprehensive system of universities, colleges, and community colleges in the United States.
Dr. Wachsman’s legendary nine-page-long curriculum vitae was littered with awards and accolades. He held eight medical licenses and was admitted to the legal bar in seven states. Throughout his career, Dr. Wachsman served on boards for the American Trial Lawyers Association, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, as President of the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, and the Board of Governors for the American College of Legal Medicine, among many others. He contributed and served on the board of philanthropic organizations throughout his life, including as a founding member of the board of the Carson Scholars Fund set up by his close friend and fellow neurosurgeon Ben Carson, M.D., former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Dr. Wachsman’s extracurricular passions were numerous. He was a longtime patron of the New York Metropolitan Opera House, where for twenty years he hosted guests to productions at the central, parterre box at The Met in Lincoln Center. Dr. Wachsman served as Bailli of the Long Island chapter of the Confrérie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs, the world’s oldest food and wine society. At his home, he hosted events with the Bolshoi Ballet and for friends including politicians Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Paul Simon, Max Cleland, Al D’Amato, Patrick Kennedy, and comedian Jackie Mason, among others.
Dr. Wachsman revived a childhood interest by retrofitting a greenhouse to present one of the largest collections of model trains in the United States. Fascinated by photography, he collected dozens of Hasselblad and other fine cameras. Dr. Wachsman curated thousands of records and books at the five libraries within Fox Hall, reading every evening to expand and deepen a knowledge in all matters of history, philosophy, and literature.
Dr. Wachsman is survived by Kathryn Mary Wachsman, Esq., his wife of 45 years, and by his brother Robert Wachsman. He will remain loved by his children Ashley Max Wachsman, M.D.; Marea Lane Wachsman, Esq.; Melissa Roseanne Wachsman; Dara Nicole Wachsman, J.D.; David Winston Wachsman; Jacqueline Victoria Wachsman; Lauren Elizabeth Wachsman; and Derek Charles Wachsman. He leaves behind grandchildren David Galkin; Jeremy Galkin; Michael Wachsman; Bina Wachsman; Clara Victoria Gabern; and Margot Elisabeth Gabern; great-grandchild Cayden Galkin; and the many thousands of people across the world whose lives were touched by his brilliance and determination.