Feb 23, 2011

NC Giving a "License to Kill" to ED Docs?...Not Quite, Guys

White Coat's Satellite Healthcare Update over at ER Stories earlier this week included a story about a bill proposed in NC that would extend some malpractice immunity to ED providers. If you read the story linked, you won't see any actual info about the bill. But you WILL read a good bit about the  North Carolina Coalition for Patient Safety director and chair member and their medical malpractice woes. Also, you will read a few fearful statements about the ethical ramifications of this act; NC-CPS director Laurie Sanders warns that enacting such a bill " gives every doctor and nurse a green light to commit malpractice in the ER." Damn, how'd she know?! I thought we medical providers did such a great job of concealing our eagerness to commit malpractice.

Don't get me wrong, malpractice DOES happen. And the idea of completely absolving ED workers from all malpractice, no matter what, seems pretty crazy to me. So I actually went and read the bill (guys, always do this, there's usually a spin - negative or positive - in the news article!) Yeah, the article was blowing it all out of proportion, or at least blowing the wrong things out of proportion.

My final conclusions? Damn, I'm glad I didn't go to law school. Also, this bill is shockingly not a giant "Get Out of Malpractice Free" card for ED workers! What it does is:
  1. Say that any ED provider can't be held liable until it has been proven that they acted negligently
  2. Require a bifurcated trial (first a trial for medical liability and compensation, then a trial for punitive damages) for any malpractice case where the plaintiff is requesting more then $75k in damages.
  3. Impose a $250k cap on noneconomic damages - this actually seems like the one that should be making headlines
  4. Allow for payment of damages in the form of structured settlements as opposed to only a lump sum
  5. Require that it be specified how much of an "award" is for economic and how much is for noneconomic losses
  6. Require the jury be instructed on the meaning of economic vs noneconomic ("pain and suffering") damages
  7. Limit the amount a defendant who is appealing a ruling in favor the plaintiff must pay to either the amount specified by the jury OR the maximum limit their malpractice insurance covers, whichever is lower; this means that the provider doesn't pay an damages out of pocket until an appeal has been completed (at which point, if still found guilty, they will have to pay the rest of the damages)
Yep, nowhere in there do I see a promotion from "MD" to "007" in there for NC practitioners. Sorry guys, maybe next time!

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