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.

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.




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.

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.




Medical Malpractice Charged Over Brain-Damaged Teen


Posted on 4th May 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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A family has filed a medical malpractice suit after their teenaged daughter sustained traumatic brain injury after going to a hospital for a routine procedure, according to WABC-TV in New York.

The lawsuit alleges that Raina Ferraro, now 19, suffered brain damage and is now blind and almost deaf after being treated at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

Raina went to the hospital in January to get a stomach ailment she had checked out, WABC said. Physicians did an endoscopy, putting a camera down her throat, to try to see what was wrong. But during the procedure Raina’s blood pressure and heart rate suddenly dropped, and her brain was deprived of oxygen, according to the suit.

The medical malpractice lawsuit charges that because doctors didn’t act quickly, Raina became brain-damaged and will need millions of dollars of special care for the rest of her life, WABC reported.

Phelps Memorial Hospital declined to comment.

St. Louis Hospital Admits Brain-Surgery Mistake


Posted on 30th April 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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I haven’t seen this very often in my career as a traumatic brain injury lawyer: A hospital making a lengthy apology after being sued for medical malpractice.

The hospital chain involved as SSM Health Care-St. Louis, which last Friday was sued for allegedly operating on the wrong side of a patient’s brain. Actually, I can take out the “allegedly,” since the hospital quickly owned-up to the error.

Here’s what happened. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote story Tuesday saying that a suit had been filed against SSM Health Care on behalf of Regina Turner, 53. She had been slated to have a left-sided craniotomy bypass on April 4 at SSM St. Clare Health Center (part of SSM Health Care) in Fenton, Mo. Instead, the surgery was done on the right side of her brain, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The malpractice lawsuit, which also named neurosurgeon “A.L.” as a defendant, claims that doctors performed a second surgery, on the correct side of Turner’s brain, six days after the mishap in the operating room, according to the St. Louis newspaper.

Now Turner can’t speak intelligibly, needs constant care, and is suffering from anxiety and depression, the suit says.

Perhaps to deflect some of the bad publicity about the malpractice suit, after the Post-Dispatch story appeared SSM Health Care admitted that its neurosurgeon and medical team had operated on the wrong side of Turner’s brain.

According to the newspaper, SSM Health Care President and CEO Chris Howard issued a long statement about Turner’s case. First of all, Howard apologized for “the wrong-site surgery in our operating room.”

“This was a breakdown in our procedures, and it absolutely should not have happened,” Howard said. “We have since taken steps to be even more vigilant to prevent such an error from happening again. Medicine is a human endeavor, and sadly, people and systems are not perfect. When an error occurs, it is tragic for the patient, their loved ones and the medical team.”

It will be interesting to see what kind of a settlement comes out of this mess.

N.J. Court Erred With Expert Limit In Malpractice Case


Posted on 29th March 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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A New Jersey appellate panel ruled Thursday that a trial judge shouldn’t have limited the number of experts permitted to testify in a medical malpractice case involving a youth who sustained brain damage and died after being stabbed, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark. The suit will now go back for a new trial.

The appellate court said that a Hudson County judge made an error when he found that the defendant and plaintiff could only bring in one expert each on any subject relevant to the case, The Ledger reported. The panel said that the judge had ended up barring important evidence merely because it was the same as other testimony.

The malpractice case involved Kevin McClean, an 18-year-old Jersey City youth who died in October 2007 from complications stemming from when he was stabbed in September 2005. After the attack, McLean got a staff infection, sustained brain damage and became paralyzed from the waist down, according to The Ledger.

Kevin’s mother, Lisa McClean, then sued Greenville Hospital in Jersey City for malpractice, alleging that physicians should have diagnosed her son’s infection earlier. The jury didn’t find in favor of the mother, The Ledger reported.

During the trial, hospital lawyers argued McLean didn’t have any symptoms the indicated he had an infection.  The plaintiff’s attorney contended that he should have been allowed to call a second emergency medicine expert who would have said McLean should have been given a blood test, according to The Ledger.

The appellate panel ruled that a trial judge doesn’t have the “authority to balance the number of witnesses,” the newspaper reported.


Catholic Fetus-Death Suit Going To Colorado Supreme Court


Posted on 1st February 2013 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Sometimes the Catholic Church doesn’t practice what it preaches.

The Church’s doctrine is that human life begins at conception, hence its stand against abortion. But when it comes to litigation, it’s a different story, apparently.

In a case that’s gotten lots of press, a Catholic health care company recently successfully fought a wrongful death suit — by arguing that a fetus is not legally a person until it is born. That argument flies in the face of what the Church teaches.

In this Colorado case, Jeremy Stodghill sued St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City and its owner Catholic Health Initiatives over the death of his wife Lori and their unborn twin boys, according to CNN.

Lori, 28 weeks pregnant, was short of breath and vomiting when she went to the hospital’s emergency room on New Year’s Day 2006, CNN reported. She ended up going into cardiac arrest and died, as did her unborn twin boys. Stodghill became the sole caretaker of the couple’s then-2-year-old daughter, and filed suit against the hospital.

The litigation had already been in progress for two years when the hospital’s lawyers brought a new argument to court, according to CNN. They maintained that a fetus is legally not a person until it is born alive, the news network reported.

And since the Stodghills’ twins were dead when they were taken from 31-year-old Lori’s body, the hospital couldn’t be held liable over their demise. A court bought that argument, and it ended up that Stodghill lost his suit, even the claims regarding his wife’s death, according to CNN.

But that wasn’t the end of it all. The hospital went after Stodghill for more than $118,000 in legal fees, trying to get him to drop his appeal.

The bottom line is that Stodghill has now asked the Colorado Supreme Court to hear his case, CNN reported. In turn, Colorado bishops have told media outlets, including CNN, that they will look at the litigation and the hospital’s practices to be sure they are in faithful to the Church’s teachings.