In Tennessee, emergency room doctors may soon be given extra protection from malpractice suits, legislation that doesn’t leaves physicians culpable enough for their actions and mistakes.
Under the pending legislation, a patient in Tennessee would have to meet a pretty high test, proving gross negligence by a doctor in an ER, in order to bring a successful malpractice case, according to a recent story in the Johnson City Press.
The bill’s sponsors are two Republicans, Rep. Glen Casada and Sen. John Jackson, and they have trotted out the usual justification for this type of malpractice legislation: That it will put a damper of frivolous lawsuits and therefore help keep health care costs down.
Opponents of the bill, who I agree with, include the Tennessee Association for Justice. In the Johnson City Press, the president of the association, Keith Williams, maintains that under the proposed law, if you went to an ER with chest pains and were diagnosed with bronchitis — but then went home and died of a heart attack — your survivors would have no legal recourse.
As the the Association for Justice points out, ER doctors are already protected from frivolous malpractice suits in Tennessee. As the law stands now, if ER doctors provide care “that is consistent with standards set by their peers” they would not be liable in a malpractice case, Johnson City Press reported.
Opponents of the pending Tennessee legislation are also disturbed, rightfully so, that the bill also provides extra protection to surgeons whose patients are admitted through the ER.
Even though an estimated 98,000 people die in Tennessee each year due to medical errors, the state seems to be bending over backwards to help doctors, not patients.
As the Johnson City Press pointed out, last year Tennessee legislators passed a law that limits non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, at $750,000 for medical malpractice cases. Punitive damages were capped at $500,000.
At first blush, $750,000 might sound like a lot of money. But if your spouse, or parent, or child died because of a doctor’s negligence, you wouldn’t think that $750,000 is enough for a life.
State lawmakers have already given the Tennessee medical community too much protection. They should not dole out any more breaks to doctors.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
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