Medical Malpractice Awards Drop To All-Time Low


Posted on 9th August 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Maybe this new report will end all the hooting and hollering in D.C. about medical malpractice driving up the cost of health care. But somehow I doubt it.

Medical malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors were at their lowest level on record in 2012, according to a report just released by Public Citizen, an advocacy group.

In the report, “No Correlation: Continued Decrease in Medical Malpractice Payments Debunks Theory That Litigation Is to Blame for Soaring Medical Costs,” Public Citizen analyzed data from the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which has tracked malpractice payments since the fall of 1990.

“We now have a decade’s worth of data debunking the litigation canard,” Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and the report’s author, said in a statement. “Policymakers need to focus on reducing medical errors, not reducing accountability for medical errors.”

The report found that in 2012:

– The number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors (9,379) was the lowest on record, falling for the ninth consecutive year;

– The value of payments made on behalf of doctors ($3.1 billion) was the lowest on record if adjusted for inflation. In unadjusted dollars, payments fell for the ninth straight year and were at their lowest level since 1998;

– More than four-fifths of medical malpractice awards compensated for death, catastrophic harm or serious permanent injuries – countering the claim that medical malpractice litigation is “frivolous”;

– Medical malpractice payments’ share of the nation’s health care bill was the lowest on record, falling to about one-tenth of 1 percent (0.11 percent) of national health care costs;

– Medical liability insurance premiums, a broad measure that takes into account defense litigation costs and other factors as well as actual payments, fell to 0.36 of 1 percent of health care costs, the lowest level in the past decade.

The facts surrounding the prevalence of medical malpractice litigation are important for several reasons, the report contends. Medical malpractice has been singled out by many in Congress as the culprit for rising health care costs.

For instance, during the health care reform debate, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio,) called medical malpractice the “biggest cost driver” in medicine. Republicans in Congress have continuously lobbied to pass legislation that would restrict patients’ ability to seek redress in court.

“The facts clearly and obviously refute the contentions put forth by Boehner and others that malpractice litigation significantly influences health care costs,” Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, said in a statement. “Medical malpractice payments continue to fall and health care costs continue to rise. It doesn’t take a math whiz to determine that they are not correlated.”

The new report finds that since 2003, medical malpractice payments have fallen 28.8 percent, yet national health care costs are up 58.2 percent. If health care costs paralleled litigation trends during the past decade, the nation’s health care bill in 2012 would have been $1.3 trillion. Instead, it was $2.8 trillion, according to Public Citizen.

The reduction in litigation is most likely due to state laws that have reduced patients’ legal rights rather than it is to improvements in medical care, the report said. Studies in recent years have found that between 1-in-4 and 1-in-7 hospital patients suffer adverse events, which are defined as undesirable and unanticipated developments that cause death or serious injury.

Hero Pilot Lobbies For Reduction Of Medical Errors


Posted on 6th August 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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If 20 jets were crashing every week, there would be a national uproar, with planes grounded and airports shut. Yet medical errors kill the same equivalent of people, 200,000 each year, and nothing is done.

That is exactly what Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero who safely landed a jet on the Hudson River in 2009, told Sullenberger may be retired, but he is still busy. He has mounted a crusade to reduce the number of medical errors in the United States.

According to, Sullenberger is lobbying in Washington and lecturing across the country to bring about changes to cut down on medical mistakes — and save lives. For example, he recently was a featured speaker at the American Hospital Association’s annual summit in San Diego.

One of Sullenberger’s recommendations is that the aviation practice of going through checklists before taking off be applied to medical care and procedures. That makes a lot of sense to me.

The hero pilot is also pressing for more accurate records on medical mistakes and a non-accusatory approach to dealing with them. The idea is to find what led to the error, not crucify the doctors and nurses involved.

Sullenberger is seeking quick change and improvements to patient safety. I hope someone in Washington listens to him.

Ex-Student With Cerebral Palsy Sues L.A. School District


Posted on 3rd August 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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A teenager with cerebral palsy and spastic dysplasia is suing the Los Angeles Unified School District for allegedly discriminating against him, by failing to offer him accessible transportation when he attended Carson High School, according to KCBS-TV.

The lawsuit was filed by Edward Martinez, 18, under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Martinez, who is wheelchair-bound, claims that he was repeatedly left at the curb while teachers and other students traveled on an disabled-inaccessible bus to activities such as baseball games, field trips and Grad Night at Disneyland, KCBS-TV reported.

The youth said he was so frustrated by always being left behind that he had teachers and students take him out of his wheelchair and carry him on and off the bus for the Disneyland Grad trip, an experience he described as “humiliating.”

Martinez also alleges that he was forced to stay in the high school library while his math class met for two weeks in an upstairs room, according to KCBS-TV.

Martinez previously sued the school district on a disability issue, but that case was settled. But KCBS-TV said that under that settlement, the district agreed to train staff and get vehicles that capable of transporting the disabled.

It doesn’t seem like that worked out too well.

Battle Rages To Increase California’s Malpractice Cap


Posted on 27th July 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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A consumer watchdog group in California is fighting hard to let voters decide if the state’s cap on medical malpractice awards should be increased, and hopefully Californians will have the chance — and support upping the limit.

As explained by the Insurance Journal, the cap on pain and suffering awards on medical malpractice in California is only $250,000, a number set almost four decades ago, in 1975. Consumer Watchdog California says that just to keep pace with inflation, that cap should be increased to $1.1 million. The consumer group will start to collect the 750,000 signatures it needs on a petition to get the issue put on the ballot next year so voters can decide on raising the limit. according to the Insurance Journal.

Californians Allied for Patient Protection oppose any increase in the cap for non-economic damages. The coalition is armed with a 2010 study that claims that increasing the cap to $500,000 alone would end up in $9.5 billion is added costs a year to the state’s health care system, the Insurance Journal reported.

The drive to get the cap increased is being spearheaded by a man, Bob Pack, whose daughter, 7, and son, 10, were killed by a driver who was on drugs, became unconscious and then went off the road and hit them. Pack’s wife also lost the unborn twins she was carrying in the accident.

It’s no surprise that Pack wants to see some action taken after the horrendous loss he suffered. One of the things he is lobbying for is the requirement that doctors use CURES (Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System) to access patient-abuse histories. according to the Insurance Journal. Consumer Watchdog maintains that doctors aren’t checking CURES, hence the rise in prescription drug addiction.

Of course, the California Medical Association and insurers are screaming about any plan to increase the current $250,000 cap on compensation for pain and suffering, blaming the effort on greedy lawyers. After all, they argue, currently there isn’t any limit on incurred medical expenses, future medical expenses and past and present lost wages. So there doesn’t need to be one on pain and suffering, they say.

Tell that to Bob Pack. Money won’t bring back his lost children and unborn twins. But shouldn’t he and his wife get adequate compensation for the pain and suffering they have endured? And shouldn’t a jury be able to decide whether they deserve more than $250,000, a number set decades ago?

Let’s hope California voters get a chance to decide in the voting booth what to do about the cap, and that they do the right thing.

University To Pay $15 Million To Brain-Injured Girl


Posted on 14th July 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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In one of he largest medical malpractice settlements in the state’s history, the University of Washington (UW) will pay $15 million to the family of a girl who suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) after using a nasal decongestant recommended by the school’s physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, according to the University Herald.

It’s unclear if a judge ordered the award or if it was a settlement, since the $15 million is described both ways in the story. At one point the story said that a  judge in King County Superior Court had ordered the award in the case involving MacKenzie Bryant. Her family filed suit against the hospital and UW.

In another section of the story, the money was described as a settlement.

MacKenzie got a cold, and had blocked nasal passages about four years ago. Dr. Cory Noel, a university cardiology fellow, suggested she take Afrin, despite the fact that the child’s cardiologist, Dr. Yuk Law, had warned that she shouldn’t take the decongestant because of her heart condition, the University Herald reported.

MacKenzie had previously had a  heart transplant.

Law was correct in his warning. MacKenzie had a cardiac arrest not long after her mother gave her the Afrin. As a result of the cardiac arrest, the girl’s brain was deprived of oxygen and she suffered TBI. Now she must have round-the-clock nursing care. She can’t talk, has to get nourishment through a stomach tube, and can’t move.

According to the University Herald, UW apologized for the girl’s brain injury but defended its doctor.

“We believe that the use of Afrin, a commonly used over-the-counter cold remedy, did not lead to MacKenzie’s [cardiac arrest]: However, the judge on this case ruled in favor of the plaintiff and her family,” the university said in a statement.




Appeals Court Lets Cerebral Palsy-Bus Accident Case Go To Trial


Posted on 13th July 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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A Georgia appellate court has reversed a summary judgment ruling that threw out a suit filed by a woman motorist whose vehicle was hit by a school bus, which she claims caused her newborn to develop cerebral palsy, according to Daily Report.<

The mother, Katina Nixon, sued the Pierce County School District over a March 10, 2008 accident. Nixon, nine months pregnant, was driving a small sedan when she was hit from the rear by a District school bus. In the crash, Nixon suffered bruises on her chest and lap from her seat belt, and had neck and shoulder injuries, the Daily Report said.

Nixon was rushed to the hospital, where doctors induced labor. The next day, March 11, Nixon gave birth to a girl, Kylee. But all was not well. At age six months it became apparent that the baby was favoring her left side, and at age one she was having trouble crawling because of the limited use she had of her right side, according to the ruling of the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Nixon took her daughter to a pediatric neurologist, who diagnosed Kylee as having cerebral palsy due to a perinatal stroke.

In her negligence lawsuit, Nixon blamed her daughter’s stroke and subsequent cerebral palsy on the collision with the bus. In a deposition, the neurologist said the crash could have caused Kylee’s condition, but that she couldn’t say there was a direct “casual connection” between the stroke and bus accident beyond a 50 percent chance, the appellate court said.

The school district filed a partial summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. It found that Nixon “failed to create a jury question as to whether Kylee sustained an injury as a result of the bus accident,” the appeals court said in its ruling.

But the appeals court disagreed and reversed.

“We agree with the District that the causal connection between the stroke and bus accident presents a specialized medical question that requires expert testimony but … we hold that the record evidence is sufficient to create a jury question on that issue,” the appellate court said.

So the case will go to trial.

Brain-Damaged Man Gets $6.4 Million In Medical Malpractice Case


Posted on 12th July 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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In what is one of the largest medical malpractice awards ever in the state, a Missouri jury has awarded $6.4 million to a married couple over a stroke the husband suffered in 2007, according to the St. Louis-Post Dispatch. He sustained brain damage.

A St. Louis County jury awarded the sum to Jeffrey Schneider and his wife Connie, who alleged in their suit that he had a stroke after getting an infection that should have been detected and treated, the newspaper reported. The medical malpractice suit had named Dr. Joseph Thompson of SSM DePAul Medical Group as a defendant.

Schneider had been diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse by Thompson in 1996, the suit said. That is a condition where the heart valve doesn’t fully close, allowing blood to flow backward into it. But Thompson never referred Schneider to a cardiologist, according to the Post-Dispatch, and really never did anything about the condition.

That led to trouble in April 2007, when Schneider fell ill with fatigue and abdominal pains, the Post-Dispatch reported. Thompson had Schneider go for some tests, but not to a cardiologist for tests on his heart.

A month later, Schneider had an acute stroke caused by a bacterial infection on his heart valve, according to the Post-Dispatch. As a result of the stroke, he suffered brain damage and has problems with his short-term memory, trouble processing words and paralysis on his right side. He hasn’t been able to work since the stroke.



New Fla. Law May Deter Medical Malpractice Suits


Posted on 3rd July 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Here’s one way to discourage people from filing medical malpractice suits: Allow the doctors and hospitals they want to sue to have access to all their medical records, violating their privacy.

A new law in Florida, being challenged by several trial attorneys, permits defendants in medical malpractice cases to get access to a plaintiff’s health care records, from all their health care providers, according to Insurance Journal. In five different lawsuits, trial attorneys argue that this violates the patient privacy safeguards in the federal Health Insurance Portability ad Accountability Act.

The trial lawyers, rightly so, maintain that this law will stop patients from filing malpractice suits, for fear that sensitive personal information about them will be made public, according to Insurance Journal. This law is so heinous, it permits potential defendants to contact health care providers even before a suit is filed, without consent of the would-be plaintiffs.

The trial lawyers suing are seeking an injunction to stop enforcement of the law, which they allege violates patients’ rights.

What kind of information would a patient be wary about becoming public?

Well, one woman whose child was born with a seizure disorder is considering filing a medical malpractice suit, Insurance Journal reported. But she was raped during her pregnancy, and she wants that information kept confidential. So because of the new law, she may not sue now.

Cerebral Palsy Boy Recovers With Stem Cell Treatment


Posted on 24th May 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Here is some hopeful news about the treatment of cerebral palsy: Medics have succeeded in treating cerebral palsy with autologous cord blood, which had stem cells.

The case involved a 2½-year-old boy who suffered traumatic brain injury following a cardiac arrest and was in persistent vegetative state, according to a press release issued this week by Catholic Hospital Bochum. The toddler was given a minimal chance of survival.

But just two months after treatment with the cord blood containing stem cells, the child’s symptoms improved significantly. Over the following months, the child learned to speak simple sentences and to move, according to the press release.

“Our findings, along with those from a Korean study, dispel the long-held doubts about the effectiveness of the new therapy,” Dr. Arne Jensen of the Campus Clinic Gynecology said in a statement.

He and his colleague, Dr. Eckard Hamelmann of the Department of Pediatrics at Bochum, reported their findings in the journal.

The boy suffered from his cardiac arrest in November 2008, and was paralyzed. There had been no treatment for the cause of what is known as infantile cerebral palsy.

“In their desperate situation, the parents searched the literature for alternative therapies,” Arne Jensen explains. “They contacted us and asked about the possibilities of using their son’s cord blood, frozen at his birth.”

Nine weeks after the brain damage, Jan. 27, 2009, the doctors administered the prepared blood intravenously.

They studied the progress of recovery at 2, 5, 12, 24, 30, and 40 months after the injury, according to the press release.

Usually, the chances of survival after such a severe brain damage and more than 25 minutes duration of resuscitation are 6 per cent, the release said, adding that months after the TBI, surviving children usually only exhibit minimal signs of consciousness.

“The prognosis for the little patient was threatening if not hopeless,” the Bochum medics said.

But after the cord-blood therapy the boy recovered relatively quickly. Within two months, the spasticity decreased significantly. He was able to see, sit, smile, and to speak simple words again, according to the release.

Forty months after treatment, the child was able to eat independently, walk with assistance, and form four-word sentences.

Of course, on the basis of these results, we cannot clearly say what the cause of the recovery is,” Jensen said. “It is, however, very difficult to explain these remarkable effects by purely symptomatic treatment during active rehabilitation.”

In animal studies, scientists have been researching the therapeutic potential of cord blood for some time. In a previous study with rats, Bochum researchers found that cord blood cells migrate to the damaged area of the brain in large numbers within 24 hours of administration.

In March, in a controlled study of 100 children, Korean doctors reported for the first time that they had successfully treated cerebral palsy with allogeneic cord blood.

St. Louis Neurosurgeon Sued 50 Times For Malpractice


Posted on 11th May 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Is Dr. Faisal Albanna a negligent neurosurgeon, or a target for medical malpractice lawsuits, because of the high-risk operations he performed?

That’s the question that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch took on in its profile of Albanna, an Iranian-born doctor who has been named as a defendant in roughly 50 lawsuits since 1987, including four wrongful death cases.

Right now Albanna, 60, says he is “disabled” and has stopped practicing medicine, the newspaper said. Earlier this year he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

In the article, Albanna is credited with being a multimillion-dollar rainmaker for several St. Louis hospitals, in part by taking on difficult brain surgeries that other physicians wouldn’t touch.

The brain surgeon made news in 1998 when he saved a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy who was in a coma after being shot in the forehead with a shotgun, the Post-Dispatch reported. Albanna carefully removed metal fragments from the deputy’s brain and repaired a “leak” in it caused by the metal.

The Post-Dispatch credited Albanna with an apt quote, saying the surgeon once compared fixing a brain aneurysm to “defusing a mine.”

But attorneys who have represented clients in medical malpractice cases against Albanna have a different story, the newspaper reported. They alleged that after surgery by Albanna their clients sustained nerve damage and had chronic pain. In one instance, Albanna performed surgery on a patient who needed a shunt, a tube, removed from his brain that was causing trouble.

That patient died just one day after Albanna did the surgery on him. Several neurosurgeons had refused to perform that surgery on the patient, claiming it was too risky. And a half dozen doctors, according to the Post-Dispatch, signed affidavits alleging that Albanna’s conduct “fell below the standard of care.”

Over the years in Missouri, the state medical board reprimanded Albanna a number of times for his unprofessional conduct. He was placed on probation in not only Missouri but Illinois and Pennsylvania. Yet hospitals continued to renew Albanna’s privileges, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Albanna’s defenders claim that as a surgeon in a high-risk specialty, cases that other doctors refused to take, it makes sense that he has been sued so many times.

But I have to agree with question posed by one attorney quoted in the story: “Why do hospitals let a guy like this on staff?” Indeed.