When a patient is effected by medical malpractice through, for example, a botched surgery, misguided prescription, or a tragic birth experience, it is their right to seek just compensation. Unfortunately, there have been parties solely with monetary interests trying to not only influence policy, but also social perception of the issue. You can see this in the recent past with legislation that limits medical malpractice awards and even giving more strength to the defense (the doctors and insurance companies that represent them) to seek ways to vilify the victim. Award limits happened in our home state of Washington, just to be overturned in 2006. Fortunately, it seems that, though they still exist in other parts of the country, these types of practices and policies are slowly, but surely coming to a welcome end. Two examples are below.

Apologies Go A Long Way

This week, celebrity actor James Woods (who ironically won an Emmy for his depiction of a disillusioned lawyer on the show Shark) is supporting a bill in Rhode Island that is based on studies out of Michigan regarding the hospital’s policy on apologies to patients touched by medical malpractice. The reason shy James Woods is involved is that he had a very publicized medical malpractice lawsuit against a Rhode Island Hospital. Woods’ brother, Michael, died of a heart attack at Kent Hospital in 2006. Woods sued the hospital, accusing emergency room staff of not doing enough to save his brother. He settled the lawsuit after the hospital’s CEO apologized and agreed to start an institute in Michael Woods’ name. The bill is intended to allow the hospital to apologize to the victim without the fear of reprisal. It is essentially saying that an apology is not necessarily a clear admittance of guilt. Here’s how medical malpractice policy has generally worked in the past:

  • A patient is effected by medical malpractice.
  • They inform the hospital.
  • The hospital speaks to their lawyers.
  • Communication breaks down.
  • The long drawn out process of settlement or court begins.

What the Michigan study showed was that physicians and institutions that sit down with the victims in an open and compassionate environment. Certainly, there are attorneys present representing their interests, however, the study found that when the defendant and plaintiff talked and the plaintiff was offered an apology, the settlement time and award were nearly 60% less than that of previous medical malpractice proceedings. Not only was this demonstrated in the James Woods case, but also here locally in Seattle last year. Seattle Children’s Hospital had a rash of accidental child poisonings that would have caused any institution to go into silent mode. Yet, Children’s Hospital reacted immediately with opening their doors to the media, state and local investigations, and gave a very candid and public apology. This not only went a long way to cementing their local and national image, but also protected them from what could have been some very expensive and drawn out lawsuits. Instead, settlement proceedings have been quiet. However, this could have been very different, where the institution uses their resources to vilify the victims, a route that has worked in the past, but is considered unsavory by most. HIPAA and Medical Malpractice Medical malpractice lawyers around the country have been keeping their left eye on New York for the past few years as a serious legal issue has been wiggling its way through the judiciary system. It’s surrounding the 2007 ruling, Arons v. Jutkowitz, in which the Court of Appeals held that defendants have a right to interview plaintiffs’ doctors without the consent of the plaintiff if they comply with procedural requirements in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA is specifically in place to protect workers and their families from losing health insurance after losing a job and to give some privacy to their medical information and who can obtain that information. The Arons v. Jutkowitz is counterproductive to the intent of the bill, since the bill has very specific privacy and protections in place. Under HIPAA, defendants must obtain authorization from the plaintiff before conducting interviews with non-party doctors. The reason why this is so important is that it allows defendants to farm for preexisting conditions or medical instances in the patient’s past that they can use against the plaintiff to insinuate that the victim is misleading in some way. This is already done through subpoena of medical records, but testimony is a whole different deal and could include a myriad of questions that veer away from the hard facts within the case. “You can’t have a fair adversarial system if one side has a proprietary interest in a witness,” said Joshua Cohen, president of the New York State Medical Defense Bar Association. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse, defended the measure, noting that his proposal retains the ability of the defense to question doctors at depositions. In a memo opposing the bill, the Greater New York Hospital Association said the measure would increase malpractice insurance premiums by 6 percent, or $96 million, if enacted. DeFrancisco on Thursday called the estimate “nonsense,” and said no one could predict the fiscal impact.

Medical Malpractice Attorneys

But what this all comes down to is the patient. There are approximately an estimated 250,000 instances of medical malpractice every year in the United States resulting in injury or death. In the face of this, Harvard University determined that less than 2% of the total cost of healthcare in the US was caused by medical malpractice awards and settlements. In fact, they determined that non-required procedures to avoid lawsuits were double the cost to the overall U.S. healthcare system than the lawsuits that they were actually trying to prevent! It is in the best interest of the patient that they find a lawyer that not only understands them, but also the system and how it can turn out great for everyone if there is just some common sense injected into the system that protects the rights of the patient and not the insurance companies and the institutions. If you or a loved one have been severely injured or killed by suspected medical malpractice then it is important that you find experienced council that can clearly explain your rights and represent you in your fight to protect those rights. Call Phillips Law Firm for a consultation on your legal options.

Phillips Law Firm can help you with your Medical Malpractice claim.

At Phillips Law Firm our lawyers are dedicated to getting you justice and compensation you deserve. Call Phillips Law Firm at 1-800-708-6000, we are waiting to assist you 24/7, offering a free case evaluation. Remember our no fee promise. If we do not recover anything for you, you do not owe us an attorney fee It is important to act immediately. Do not let the window of opportunity for your case close as all cases have statues of limitations. You deserve justice and we are here to help.

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