New Bill Puts NC Patients in Danger

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Sens. Apodaca, Brown and Rucho Roll Out Legislation as Patients, NC Advocates for Justice Prepare for Public Hearing on Thursday

Lawmakers need to focus on improving patient safety, not limiting the rights of injured patients,” said Dick Taylor of NC Advocates for Justice.

North Carolina legislators introduced a bill on Tuesday that would effectively gut the rights of injured patients and leave everyone less safe in hospitals and nursing homes.

Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Sens Tom Apodaca, Harry Brown and Bob Rucho, is “a radical version of ‘malpractice reform’ – the insurance industry’s term for denying injured patients access to the courts,” said Dick Taylor of the NC Advocates for Justice. A public hearing on the bill is set for Thursday, 10am at the General Assembly.

“Lawmakers need to focus on improving patient safety, not limiting the rights of injured patients,” said Taylor, citing a New England Journal of Medicine report that indicates 4,000 patients die and 5,700 are permanently injured or die in North Carolina hospitals every year because of preventable medical mistakes.

Taylor also questioned the motives behind the bill, noting that medical malpractice cases have sharply declined in North Carolina and doctors are flocking to the state.

SB-33 erodes rights and puts patients in danger:

  •                  In medical malpractice cases, the bill sets an arbitrary cap of $250,000 on damages for disfigurement, mutilation, loss of limb, paralysis, pain, suffering and death.
  •                  The arbitrary cap on damages would be especially devastating for injured children, homemakers, and the elderly, who have limited economic damages. In most of these cases the person injured by malpractice would be unable to pursue a claim, and those who carelessly caused the injury would escape all responsibility.
  •                  According to former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, Jr., “the proposed cap on noneconomic damages is unconstitutional.” The cap violates the right to a jury trial, guaranteed by the North Carolina Constitution. The bill provides that in any case where a jury awards an injured patient more than $250,000 in “noneconomic damages,” the judge will overrule the jury, void its judgment , and reduce the verdict to the amount decided by politicians in Raleigh. That’s unfair. And unconstitutional.

In addition, the bill would create total immunity for negligent care in hospital emergency departments. Susan Pierce,, who taught for decades at the UNC School of Nursing, commented: “I cannot understand why legislators would seek to nullify the duty of doctors and nurses to meet professionally established standards of care. That undermines medical and nursing ethics, and puts patients in danger.” The bill gives every doctor and nurse a green light to commit malpractice in the ER.

Facts on the alarming prevalence of medical errors and declining insurance rates:

  •      A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that 4,000 patients die and 5,700 patients are permanently injured in North Carolina hospitals every year because of preventable medical mistakes.
  •      The number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in North Carolina has sharply decreased over the past decade. In 2007-2009, the annual average of malpractice filings was 465 – 22.5% lower than the annual average in the preceding nine years.
  •      The annual number of malpractice lawsuits (465) is less than 5% of the 9,700 patients killed or permanently injured every year because of medical malpractice. In other words, only 1 in 20 patients who are severely harmed by a preventable medical mistake files suit.
  •      While the number of malpractice lawsuits has been dropping, the number of doctors in North Carolina continues to increase, and the rate of growth in the physician population continues to outpace the growth in total population. Between 1998 and 2008, the total population in North Carolina grew by 18%, while the physician population increased by 29%.
  •      North Carolina juries are conservative in awarding damages. In the 54 malpractice cases in which the plaintiff won at trial and obtained a verdict on damages from 1998-2009, the median jury award was only $320,000.
  •      Medical malpractice premiums for North Carolina doctors have decreased, while the malpractice insurance companies have made record profits.

For more information, please contact todd(at)ncaj(dot)com, and visit http://www.LetJuriesDecide.com.

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Todd Barlow
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