Tennessee ER Doctors Don’t Need Special Protection From Malpractice Suits


Posted on 1st April 2012 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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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.


Illinois Hospital To Pay $7.5 Million Settlement For Girl With Cerebral Palsy


Posted on 4th December 2011 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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The grandparents of a 9-year-old girl who got cerebral palsy as the result of alleged malpractice at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., will get a $7.5 million settlement, according to the Southtown Star. 


 Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp., parent company of Christ Medical, agreed to the settlement of a lawsuit filed by Tom and Donna Tribble, legal guardians for Elliana Tribble. The suit, filed in 2009, alleged that the physicians and nurses at Christ Medical “delayed in responding to signs of fetal distress before” Elliana’s birth in August 2002, the Southtown Star reported Friday.

Elliana sustained brain damage from oxygen deprivation during her birth, and has cerebral palsy.

Under the settlement, the hospital does not admit any malpractice on the part of its staff, according to the Southtown Star. 

Tom and Donna Tribble, who live in Northbrook, Ill., are the parents of Elliana’s father, Sean Tribble. Sean and Joan Soka, Elliana’s parents, never got married, and the grandparents got custody of the child.

Elliana is disabled and in a wheelchair. Her grandparents told the Southtown Star that they will take part of the settlement to buy her a wheelchair that she will be able to steer with head movements and to make the doors in their home handicapped accessible.   


New York Senator Lobbies To Get Rid Of Caps On Lawyer Malpractice Fees


Posted on 27th March 2011 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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The hot-potato topic of medical malpractice is stirring up controversy in New York State.

In this instance, the brouhaha is over an alleged conflict of interest on the part of state Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, who is chairman of the Finance Committee as well as serving “of counsel” for a medical-malpractice law firm, DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, according to the New York Post,   


DeFrancisco has been supporting a bill that would abolish a cap on legal fees in medical malpractice cases, the Post reported.

Some watchdog groups claim that putting an end to limits on attorney contingency fees will cause malpractice-insurance premiums to skyrocket and will mean smaller payouts to patients. I think this is a kneejerk reaction.

New York Gov. Cuomo is advocating that there be  $250,000 cap on “pain and suffering awards,” which he claims will reduce malpractice costs by $700 million. Right now New York lawyers have caps on how much of their clients’ award they can keep.

Currently attorneys can get up to 30 percent of judgments below $250,000, the Post reported, but not any more than 10 percent of awards that are larger than $1.25 million. The bill that DeFrancisco supports would throw out those limits.    

Doctor Lawmaker Pushing Malpractice Caps Paid Toward $500,000 Settlement


Posted on 9th February 2011 by gjohnson in Uncategorized


Is it a potential conflict of interest for a lawmaker, a retired doctor, to push for legislation limiting malpractice awards when he himself was involved in the settlement of such a case for $500,000? Maybe not technically, but it doesn’t seem quite kosher.


The New York Times Wednesday did a story about Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia, a retired obstetrician, who has introducd a number of versions of a malpractice reform bill. 

As it turns out, according to The Times, Gingrey was one of  several doctors named in a lawsuit filed by a pregnant woman. The suit alleged that  Gingrey and two fellow doctors failed to realise that the woman had appendicitis. When her appendix burst the woman not only lost her fetus but also suffered a stroke.

The malpractice suit, which had been reinstated after being dismissed at a trial. was settled in 2007.

Gingrey’s office gave The Times a prepared statement about the settlement, saying that the parties in the case agreed to settle because they want to deal with the cost, time, commitment and stress of a second trial.          

The bill that Gingrey is backing would collar damages for pain and suffering in malpractice cases at $250,000. It would also limit the fees that attorneys could collect for handling a patient’s case and it would offer alternatives to litigation to resolve malpractice suits.

In his statement Gingrey defended the malpractice legislation, saying that it will stop third-parties, such as attorneys,  from from collecting big fees at the expense of patients who are suing.

It seems to me that capping malpractice awards and attorneys’ fee will discourage talented lawyers from representing patients in such  cases. And then it follows that these patients won’t be getting the benefit of the best counsel around .

Quadriplegic Suffers Traumatic Brain Injury When Ventilator Dislodges


Posted on 29th November 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Here’s a textbook lesson in how nurses should not care for a patient.

You have quadriplegic patient who is on a ventilator. His ventilator accidentally becomes disconnected, setting off a warning light at a nurses’ station. You don’t notice the flashing light, and for 24 minutes the man’s brain is deprived of oxygen. The patient suffers traumatic brain injury and develops a seizure disorder. You get sued.


That’s the case in hand.

The family of Robert Knowles has filed suit in Suffolk County Supreme Court against the Medford Multicare Center on Long Island, N.Y., over the March 21, 2009 incident, according to the New York Post. The state Attorney General’s office is also investigating the incident. 

Knowles, an ex-truck driver, broke his neck when he fell from a ladder on Dec. 30, 2007. But he did not let his paralysis daunt him. He got around using a wheelchair that he controlled using a strawlike device that he would blow into. But then Knowles was admited to the Medford facility, and his life took another sad turn. 

When Knowles’ ventilator got detached, it set off a blinking green light on a computer screen. But for 24 minutes, none of the medical staff noticed that the warning light was on. According to the Post, there is a video from a surveillance camera that shows medical staff  “fiddling around” as the light flashes.  

Not surprisingly, Medford officials didn’t return the Post’s phone calls seeking a comment.

The Pros And Cons Of Investors, Like Hedge Funds, Bankrolling Lawsuits


Posted on 15th November 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Hedge funds and banks are anteing up “hundreds of millions of dollars” to fund other people’s lawsuits in order to get a share of their awards, according to The New York Times.


In its lengthy Page One story Monday The Times outlined the pros and cons of investors paying for the costly experts and research necessary to litigate medical malpractice and other types of lawsuits. The story, by the way, was funded by the Center for Public Integrity. 

The benefit for plaintiffs is that the investment from outside parties is allowing people who may not have had the resources to sue, despite the merits of their cases, their day in court. Less litigation leads to less justice, as one person told The Times.

But there are a lot of  downsides in this kind of money-lending. By lending money, investors can control or even initiate a suit, or get access to confidential information. Lawyers are not even bound to tell their clients that they have borrowed money to proceed with the litigation. The interest rates on these types of loans are also high, more than 15 percent, according to The Times.

As an example of how lending works, the newspaper cited a case in which New York lender Ardec Funding forked oover $45,000 this summer to a Manhattan attorney who was representing parents with a baby who sustained brain damage at birth.

The attorney retained two doctors, a physical therapist and an economist to appear at the trial. A jury directed the delivering doctor and hospital to pay a $510,000 award, The Times reported.

“Ardec is collecting interest at an annual rate of 24 percent, or $900 a month, until the award is paid,” The Times said. 

The detailed story, headlined “Putting Money on Lawsuits, Investors Share in the Payouts,” raises interesting arguments on both sides of the issue. 

Doctors’ Brawl Leads To Botched Birth In Italy


Posted on 31st August 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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I don’t know what the medical malpractice laws are in Italy, but if this family doesn’t have legal recourse, it’s a crime.

In Messina, Sicily, a mother had to have her uterus removed and her newborn sustained possible brain damage and heart problems after her two doctors got into a fist fight during the baby’s delivery last Thursday.  


 The incident at Messina’s public hospital was such a disgrace and embarrassment that Italy’s health minister, Ferruccio Fazio, trekked to Sicily to apologize to Laura Salpietro, 30.  

Her husband Matteo Molonia told officials that her two physicians disagreed about whether Salpietro should have a Caesarean section, and fists flew while the woman was in labor. One doctor grabbed the other by the neck and banged him into a wall, while the other doctor punched a window and hurt his hand, according to BBC News. 

The fistfight wound up delaying the C-section for about an hour, which lead to the problems for Salpietro and her son Antonio.

Physician, first do no harm. Why can’t some of them remember that?





New York Tests Program To Curb Medical Malpractice Costs, But Will It Be Fair To Patients?


Posted on 23rd July 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Five New York City hospitals will be taking part in a pilot program that aims to reduce medical malpractice costs through mediation, avoiding trial, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. One of the cornerstones of the program is for hospitals to admit their mistakes and to offer potential defendants settlements early on. 


While I believe this is an intriguing initiative that could help curb medical errors at hospitals, I share some of the concerns raised in the story by the president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, Nichlas Timko. 

The issues are will the early disclosure and settlement program essentially let negligent doctors and hospitals off the hook for their mistakes, and will this system take advantage of patients who don’t retain counsel.

The pilot program, which starts in the fall, is getting $3 million in federal funding, and “aims to cut the $1.4 billion spent annually in New York State on medical-malpractice premiums,” according to The Journal.

The participating hospitals are Beth Israel Medical Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Maimonides Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center. Four of the hospitals will focus on trying to cut down on mistakes in obstetrics, while New-York Presbyterian is looking to stop surigcal mistakes.

 The program will use state “health courts,” where judges will help hospitals and patients negotiate settlements, avoiding such cases going to trial. 

State officials stressed that patients can still decide to take their cases to trial, and if they choose the judge-directed negotiations, they will be notified that they have the right to have an attorney at their settlement talks.

It will be worth studing the results of this pilot program. But again, the proper measures must be taken so that patients aren’t railroaded into settling a lawsuit for far less money than they are due.       


Medical Malpractice Judge Finds That Short Delay Led To Girl’s Cerebral Palsy


Posted on 18th June 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Mere minutes made the difference that resulted in a newborn getting cerebral palsey, according to a judge who found a doctor and nurse negligent in the botched birth.

In a case in British Columbia, Canada, Judge Ian Pitfield on Monday ruled in favor of the family of Mirella Steinebach, finding that her physician Dr. Jodi Lock O’Brien and nurse Charito Hermogenes were liable for negligence during  her March 31, 2005 birth at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

The girl, now five, has cerebral palsy, a result of oxygen deprivation to her brain. It happened when her placenta separated fomr her mother’s uterus during the birth.


The damages in the civil case haven’t been determined yet, but estimates are in the $730,000 range. 

In his ruling, the judge noted that Mirella was born ar 5:37 a.m.,  but oxygen to her brain was cut off sometime between 5:17 a.m. and 5:27 a.m. 

“It follows that if Mirella had been delivered at any time before 0517 hours, it would it is more likely than not that she would not have suffered hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy,” or the brain damage that led her to get cerebral palsy.    

The judge wrote that Mirella likely won’t live past 20 years old.

Her birth had several complications that the Dr. O’Brien seemed to overlook, including the fact that Mirella’s mother had gestational diabetes and low weight gain for a pregnancy.

“Dr. O’Brien owed a duty to Ms. Steinebach to consult with an obstetrician regarding the appropriate course for the management of the labour,” the judge wrote in his ruling.


Epilepsy Drug Connected To Major Birth Defects In Babies


Posted on 16th June 2010 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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The epilepsy drug valproic acid, when taken by expectant mothers in their first trimester, has been linked to birth defects in the brain, heart and arms of newborns, according to a new study.


For example, babies whose moms took valproic acid , whose brand names include Depakene and Depakote, were almost seven  times more likely to suffer with craniosyostosis, which is a fusion of the skull when the fetus is still in the womb. That fusion put hinders skull and brain development.

In terms of other birth  defects, mothers who took valproic acid during the first three months of their pregnancy incresed their odds, by 12.7  times, of  having a baby with spina bifida, which is when the spinal cord and backbone don’t develop properly, compared to women who didn’t take the drug.

Newborns whose mothers took valproic acid were also five times more likely to have a cleft palate;  2.5 times more likely to have the athrial septal heart defect; and more than two times as likely to have an extra finger on their hand. 

Those statistics have to be put in context. Even though there is a higher risk of birth defects for children of  mothers who took the anti-seizure medication, that risk overall is not huge. In the case of spina bifida, the risk went from 0.6 percent, or six in 1,000, compared with 0.5, or five in 1,000, for children whose mother’s hadn’t taken the anti-sezure medication.

Scientists are advising women of childbearing age to find a substitute drug to ward off seizures.

The study was published in The New England  Journal of  Medicine.