A Fairfax man's $3.5 million suit against a McLean medical center and three doctors has become the first apparent test of a recent Virginia law limiting damages that can be collected in malpractice claims.

Richard Bradley, 26, filed suit on July 12 in Fairfax Circuit Court against the Old Dominion Medical Center and Drs. Ward H. Broadfield Jr., Frederick W. Hubach and Allen B. Horne.

The suit challenges a 1977 Virginia law that holds recovery in medical malpractice cases to no more than $750,000.

According to court papers, Bradley first consulted Broadfield in late December 1976, complaining of a "dry, hacking cough," for which cough medicine was prescribed.

Bradley returned to Broadfield and Drs. Hubach and Horne five times over the next two weeks for treatment of abdominal bloating and swollen genitals that culminated in heart and respiratory arrest, leaving him a "respiratory cripple," court papers state.

The suit contends that the doctors ignored Bradley's history of chronic bronchitis and failed to properly use diagnostic tools and drugs.

Jerome P. Friedlander II, an attorney for Bradley, said yesterday he will argue that the law restricting recovery is unconstitutional.

"Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars for this young man is not compensation. When you get down to gut issues, it's simply unfair," Friendlander said.

"We recognize that the lower court will probably reduce it (the claim) to $750,000. But given a successful verdict, we will be creating a ground suitable for appeal."

Friendlander also expressed disappointment that a four-member state medical review panel refused to hear his oral argument in support of a 1,000-page brief. The panel, established by the 1977 law to screen malpractice cases before they reach the courts, ruled against Bradley.

According to Gary Godard, attorney for the doctors, Friedlander's brief was "more than enough to make a decision on the merits of the case."