Articles Tagged with medical malpractice

The government of Thailand wants to have a scheme to compensate victims of medical malpractice. Many Thai doctors are opposed to the law.  Here is an argument made by the physicians, as reported in Taiwan News:

It means our staff would have to be extra careful during work, which would decrease efficiency," said Somkid Auapisithwong of Thai Federation of Doctors, Main Hospitals and General Hospitals, which looks after the interests of medical practitioners in state hospitals. "We’re already very stretched. Some of our nurses have to work almost 365 days. This would add more stress to our staff. They would have to be extra careful with all sorts of risks  and this will hinder their work.

Thanks to Torts Prof for informing me about this article.

 

 

The Georgia Supreme Court has struck down a cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, declaring the cap to be a violation of the right to trial by jury.   The case is Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C. v. Nestlehutt,  NO. SO9A1432  (Ga. March 22, 2010).  Read the opinion here.

The Court ruled that by "requiring a court to reduce a noneconomic damages award determined by a jury that exceeds the statutory limit, OCGA Sec. 51-13-1 clearly nullifies the jury’s findings of fact regarding damages and thereby undermines the jury’s basic function."

Will the President sacrifice the rights of patients injured by medical malpractice to get Republicans to sign-off on a health care bill?

Steven Olsen explains why the President  should not in this article titled "Why Shouldn’t Obama Throw Injured Patients Under the Bus to Get Heath Reform?  Ask Steven Olsen."

Steven Olsen is a malpractice victim from California.  Here is a letter written by the jury foreman after he learned that the jury’s damage award was cut because of California’s cap on damages.

We viewed video of Steven, age 2, shortly before the accident. This beautiful child talked and shrieked with laughter as any other child at play. Later, Steven was brought to the court and we watched as he groped, stumbled and felt his way long the front of the jury box. There was no chatter or happy laughter. Steven is doomed to a life of darkness, loneliness and pain.

He is blind, brain damaged and physically retarded. He will never play sports, work, or enjoy normal relationships with his peers. His will be a lifetime of treatment, therapy, prosthesis fitting and supervision around the clock…

Our medical-care system has failed Steven Olsen, through inattention or pressure to avoid costly but necessary tests. Our legislative system has failed Steven, bowing to lobbyists of the powerful American Medical Association (AMA) and the insurance industry, by the Legislature enacting an ill-conceived and wrongful law. Our judicial system has failed Steven, by acceding to this tilting of the scales of justice by the Legislature for the benefit of two special-interest groups….

I think the people of California place a higher value on life than this.

 

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has released the forms for reporting on medical malpractice claims for the 2009 calendar year.

The reports are due March 1, 2010.

Here are the instructions for filling out forms as a representative of the claimant.  Here is  the link to the reporting form.

Failure to submit all of the required information on or before the March 1, 2010 deadline will subject a reporting attorney to a penalty of $100 per day.

 

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has released the 2009 Medical Malpractice Claims Report.  Despite its title, the Report reveals data for calendar year 2008.

This is the fifth report issued by the Department and contains more different types of data than released in previous years because of a change in the reporting law.  Today I will report on some of the data and will address the balance in later posts.

In 2008, there were 3154 medical malpractice claims  closed in Tennessee.  (More than one "claim" can arise in a single case; a claim is defined as "a demand for money damages for injury or death caused by medical malpractice; or a voluntary indemnity payment for injury or death caused by medical malpractice.")  Of those claims 43 were resolved through ADR, 459 were resolved through settlement, 425 were resolved through judgment, and 2227 were otherwise resolved.

I do not understand the difference between those cases resolved by ADR and those resolved by settlement, given the difficulty settling any case without going through a mediation.  However,  the numbers appear to  tell us that  almost 70% (2227 out of 3154) of claims are dropped before suit is filed or by voluntary dismissal.  How do we know that?  Because we know the other 30% or so were settled or resulted in a judgment.

As indicated, 425 were resolved by the entry of a judgment.  How many were judgments for the plaintiff?  Five.  Just over one percent.  In other words, there were 420 claims resolved by judgment, and while the exact numbers are unreported it is reasonable to assume that many were resolved by summary judgment and a lesser amount by judgment for the defense after a trial.

The total amount of damages paid for the five cases in which a plaintiff received a judgment was $790,000, or just under $200,000 per claim.  The total damages received in the claims that were resolved by settlement or ADR was about  $118,500,00, or about $230,000 per claim.  

Payments of judgments were down over 90% from a year earlier.  Payments by settlement or ADR were about the same as they were in 2007.  

The largest reported judgment was $1,150,000.  Obviously, that judgment was not paid because it exceeds the total amount of damages paid for all judgments.  (if a case is settled post-judgment the amount is recorded as a settlement.)

There were 5,780 claims pending at the end of 2008.  

I will share more of the data contained in the Report in a later post.

 

The Doctors Company is a medical malpractice insurer.  Its website contains articles of interest to all Tennessee medical malpractice lawyers and, in fact, medical malpractice lawyers in every state.

For example, one interesting article is titled "When to Evaluate for a Hypercoagulable State."   Here is an excerpt:

 

Hypercoagulability is any alteration in the coagulation pathway that predisposes to thrombosis; it can be divided into primary (genetic) and secondary (acquired) disorders.

Acquired conditions known to predispose to DVT and PE include knee and hip surgery, abdominal surgery, brain surgery, geriatric and obstetrical surgery, prolonged immobility or bed rest, congestive heart failure, and obesity. Malignancies, especially of the lung, prostate, pancreas, and GI tract, also predispose to thromboembolism. In addition, risk for DVT and PE increases with the use of oral contraceptives and postmenopausal hormones. Other rarer conditions, such as myeloproliferative disorders and the nephrotic syndrome, also place the patient at increased risk for thromboembolic disease.

In each of these conditions, the presence of a primary (genetic) disorder or additional acquired factor(s) significantly increases the likelihood of venous thrombosis or thromboembolism. Current thought is that inherited clotting disorders contribute to about 35 percent of thromboembolic events and may account for nearly 70 percent when circumstances lead one to suspect it.

Articles such as this one help lawyers who are evaluating potential medical malpractice cases get a solid grasp on the medicine before filing a lawsuit.  The Doctors Company is to be congratulated for sharing information about medical conditions so that the public, including lawyers, can learn more about medicine.

 

 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a Policy Statement titled "Guidelines for Expert Testimony in Medical Malpractice Litigation.  

After reviewing the role of the expert witness in medical malpractice litigation, the Guidelines begin the "recommendations" section of the paper with this statement:

The AAP recognizes that physicians have the professional, ethical, and legal duty to testify as called on in a court of law in accordance with their expertise. Physicians serving as expert witnesses have an obligation to present complete and unbiased information with which the trier of fact can ascertain whether the defendant was medically negligent and whether, as a result, the plaintiff suffered compensable

injury and/or damages. At this time, the best strategies for improving the quality of medical expert witness testimony are strengthening the qualifications for serving as a medical expert and providing more specific guidelines for physician conduct throughout the legal process.

 
The recommendations include the following:
 
To meet that obligation, physicians agreeing to testify as experts in medical negligence cases should conduct themselves as follows:
 
1. Regardless of the source of the request for testimony (plaintiff or defendant physician), expert witnesses should lend their knowledge, experience, and best judgment to all relevant facts of the case.
 
2. Expert witnesses should take necessary steps to  ensure that they have access to all documents used to establish the facts of the case and the circumstances surrounding the occurrence.
 
3. Relevant information should not be excluded for any reason and certainly not to create a perspective favoring the plaintiff or the defendant.
 
4. The expert witness’s opinion should be fair and objective. The expert witness should be comfortable with his or her testimony regardless of whether it is to be used by the plaintiff or defendant.
 
 

 

Here is the most up-to-date data on medical malpractice case filings in Tennessee.

Regular readers know that  effective October 1, 2008 the General Assembly imposed significant restrictions on patients who want to file a medical malpractice suits.  The new law, which was modified again effective July 1, 2009, requires pre-suit notice and the filing of a certificate of good faith.

For the 12-month period ending September 30, 2008, 644  medical malpractice lawsuits were filed in Tennessee.   A whooping 140 of those were filed in September 2008 as lawyers filed suits to avoid the burden and risks of filing cases under the new law.  If September 2008 were an average month, one would have expected only 45 cases to have been filed.

For the year ending September 30, 2009,  available data indicates that only 263 medical malpractice lawsuits had been filed.  (Note: several counties have not yet reported data for September 2009.  Final numbers will be available in a couple months.  I would be shocked if the total number of filings for the year ending September 30, 2009 would be more that 280.)

If one assumes that total filings for the year ending September 30, 2009 will be 280, medical malpractice filings are down 65%.

That percentage reduction is not really fair, however, because of the surge of filings in September 2008.  So, let’s play with the numbers a little bit and see what we find.

Assume that all of the cases filed in September 2008 would have been filed even after the new statute came into effect and that, but for the new law, September 2008 filings should be re-adjusted to 45 – the average number of new lawsuits filed in each of the other months in that year.  Under that assumption, the adjusted total medical malpractice filings for the year ending September 30, 2008 were 549.

Next, assume that the other 95 cases filed in September 2008 would have been filed in the ordinary course in October -December 2008 or in early 2009.  Under that assumption, total medical malpractice filings for year ending September 30, 2009 would be 375 (assuming the final figures show total actual filings to be 280 plus the 95 hypothetical filings).  Under all of those assumptions, it would be fair to say that medical malpractice filings are down 32%.

This is a very conservative estimate.  Why?  First, it assumes that all of the cases filed in September 2008 under the old law would have been filed under the new law.   I think that is unlikely.   Second, it assumes that 36 medical malpractice lawsuits were filed in September, 2009, when available data tells us that only 19 were filed. 

It will take a couple years to get a completely accurate feel of how the new law has impacted medical malpractice case filings.  However,  at this time it is reasonable to say the new law has had a significant impact on case filings.  A reduction in the number of lawsuits is great for medical malpractice insurance companies and bad for insurance defense lawyers who defend malpractice cases.   In the short-run, a reduced number of filings is good for heath care providers. 

The impact on plaintiff’s lawyers is that fewer lawyers will be handling these cases because the new law makes handling the cases more time-consuming, expensive and difficult.  In addition, anecdotal evidence tells us that, in an effort to reduce the loss of income from defending cases that are no longer being filed, defense lawyers will be working cases even harder, thus increasing the work on the lawyers for patients and decreasing the profitability of those cases.  As profitability decreases, only cases that have  substantial value will be filed, thus further impacting the ability of patients to seek legal redress for their injuries.

HeathGrades studies Medicare patient care in our nation’s hospitals based on 15 indicators of patient safety.   

Here are some highlights from the 2009 report representing data from 2005 -2007:

· There were 913,215 total patient safety events among 864,765 Medicare beneficiarieswhich represents 2.3 percent of the nearly 38 million Medicare hospitalizations.

· These patient safety events were associated with over $6.9 billion of excess cost.

· The overall incidence rate remained virtually unchanged compared to last year’s study(except the failure to rescue indicator for which there were major methodological changes).

· Eight indicators showed improvement over the course of the study.  Complications of anesthesia, death in low mortality DRGs, failure to rescue, iatrogenic pneumothorax, selected infections due to medical care, post-operative hip fracture, postoperativehemorrhage or hematoma, and transfusion reaction showed improvementranging from 2.3 percent to 52.0 percent.These eight indicators accounted for 14.5 percent of the total patient safety eventsduring the study period.

· Seven indicators worsened over the course of the study. Decubitus ulcer (bed sores), post-operative physiological and metabolic derangements,post-operative respiratory failure, post-operative pulmonary embolism (potentially fatalblood clots forming in the lungs) or deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs), postoperativesepsis, post-operative abdominal wound dehiscence, and accidental punctureor laceration all worsened with changes ranging from a one-percent increase in events to23.4 percent.These seven indicators accounted for 85.5 percent of the total patient safety eventsduring the study period.

Other interesting data:

· There were 97.755 actual inhospital deaths that occurred among patients who experienced one or more of the 15 patient safety events.

· 92,882 of these deaths could be directly attributable to a patient safety event.

· Hospitals that had received a Patient Safety Excellence Award had a 43% lower risk of experiencing patient safety incidents.

· If all hospitals had performed at the same level as the award winners, 22,771 deaths could have potentially been avoided and $2.0 billion would have been saved.

· Award winners in Tennessee are Baptist Riverside, Cenntennial, Memorial (Chattanooga), Northcrest (Springfield), St. Thomas, Vanderbilt and Williamson Medical Center.

There are a significant number of cases of interest to Tennessee tort lawyers pending before the Tennessee Supreme Court.  One of those cases is Cox v. M.A. Primary and Urgent Care Clinic, 2009 WL 230242 (Tenn. Ct. App. 230242 (Jan. 30, 2009). 

The issue in the case is the appropriate standard of care for a physician’s assistant.  The Court of Appeals ruled as follows:

the services provided by a physician assistant are provided under the supervision of a licensed physician and within the scope of practice of that physician, who is responsible for the treatment rendered by the physician assistant. Consequently, the standard of care applicable to a physician assistant is that of the supervising physician in the community in which the supervising physician practices.

The holding was based in part on the language of T.C.A. Sec. 63-19106(b), which provides as follows:

A physician assistant shall function only under the control and responsibility of a licensed physician. The supervising physician has complete and absolute authority over any action of the physician assistant. There shall, at all times, be a physician who is answerable for the actions of the physician assistant and who has the duty of assuring that there is proper supervision and control of the physician assistant and that the assistant’s activities are otherwise appropriate.

The patient-appellee’s brief was filed on October 16, 2009.  Oral argument should occur in the next couple of months and we can expect on opinion in the case in the Spring of 2010.