Report Highlights Recent Developments Related To Medical Malpractice

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Medical Malpractice

Summaries of recent developments related to medical malpractice in three states appear below.

  • Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Medical Societyhas asked state lawmakers to pass a bill sponsored by state Sen. RobertO'Leary (D) under which plaintiffs could not use statements of guilt oradmissions of error by physicians as evidence in malpractice lawsuits,the Boston Globereports. In addition to that bill, state Sen. Richard Moore (D) hasintroduced legislation that would create a "Health Apology PilotProgram." Under the program, plaintiffs could not use statements ofguilt by physicians and hospitals as evidence in malpractice lawsuits,provided that they make admissions of error and apologize, as well asagree to negotiate "fair settlements." The state Senate last month helda hearing on the Moore bill but has not scheduled a hearing on theO'Leary bill. Alan Woodward, an emergency physician and a pastpresident of the medical society, said, "There's a culture of secrecy,"adding, "The defense attorneys tell you can't even talk to your spouse.That anything you say to anyone in any environment will be used againstyou. We're trying to reverse that culture." However, Paul Leavis --president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, which opposes the bills -- said, "If they're responsible for causing harm, they should be held responsible." Officials for ProMutual Group and CRICO/RMF,the largest malpractice insurers in the state, said that they are notaware of any cases in which a plaintiff used a statement of guilt oradmission of error by a physician as evidence in a malpractice lawsuit(Kowalczyk, Boston Globe, 10/31).
  • Pennsylvania: The amount of claims paid by the state Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error,or MCARE, fund will decrease for a fourth consecutive year to $191million, about a 50% decrease from 2003, Gov. Ed Rendell (D) said lastweek, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Reviewreports. The fund helps cover the cost of malpractice claims thatexceed $500,000 in primary coverage, which all physicians in the statemust obtain. Rendell said, "Pennsylvania is a success story when itcomes to medical malpractice," adding, "Thanks to thoughtfullegislative reforms passed in 2002, along with aggressive judicial andadministrative reforms implemented since then, the number ofmalpractice cases being filed and the cost of malpractice insurancecontinue to drop." However, according to Bruce MacLeod, chair of theemergency department at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh and chair of the board of trustees of the Allegheny County Medical Society,"If you compare us to other states, we are not as good. If the car wassitting on the edge of the abyss before, it clearly is still notrunning very well" (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10/26).
  • Washingtonstate: A state malpractice law enacted last year prevents publicdisclosure of reports of medical errors by individual hospitals,according to a legal opinion sent last week by the state Office of the Attorney General to the state Department of Health, the Seattle Timesreports. The department has collected and made public reports ofcertain "adverse events or incidents" by individual hospitals since2000. However, the Washington State Hospital Associationrecently asked the department to end public disclosure of the reportson the grounds that the law prohibited the practice. The departmentagreed to the request, provided that the office concurred in a legalopinion of the association (Ostrom, Seattle Times, 10/30).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily HealthPolicy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The HenryJ. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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