Category Archives: News

February 2020 Newsletter

The year ahead for patients and physicians Advocating for physicians in over 60 active lawsuits, the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies has a busy year ahead in support of access to care. Brian D. Vandenberg, senior vice president and general counsel at the American Medical Association (AMA), recently outlined the priorities for 2020 in an interview with American Medical News. On the docket for the AMA is the rise in hybrid medical liability lawsuits. Vandenberg explains, “Hybrid liability suits attempt to disregard medical malpractice liability caps by conflating distinct legal theories—an end-run around legislative tort reform.” Vandenberg highlights these attempts as “disingenuous” ways to overcome limits on noneconomic damages. “We’ll continue to advocate for meaningful tort reform, and will continue to challenge and file amicus briefs in abusive hybrid lawsuits.” He also emphasized the importance of protecting the patient-physician relationship and the continued ability for open and honest discussions about health care recommendations. When asked about what was at stake in several of their key legal priorities in 2020, Vandenberg answered, “Access and trust. It’s really that simple.” To read the full interview on how the Litigation Center is playing a role in support of ensuring…

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January 2020 Newsletter

Iowa mothers facing fewer options for labor and delivery A rising trend of Iowa maternity ward closures is having a domino effect on expectant mothers and access to prenatal care. With 12 maternity wards closing statewide between 2016 and 2018, the already rural state is leaving soon-to-be mothers with fewer options – further away. Once known as a state offering a reasonable medical liability climate, recent sky-high judgements have impacted the willingness of physicians and hospital systems to remain in practice. Between 2017 and 2019, Iowa juries awarded plaintiffs more than $63 million in non-economic damages, adding up to nearly three times the $21.4 million awarded in economic damages. Now, half of Iowa’s counties lack any maternity services at all. “This situation drives up health care costs for all Iowans as malpractice insurance premiums rise, while putting patients, doctors and hospitals at risk,” writes Dr. Marygrace Elson, an OBGYN practicing in Iowa City and president of the Iowa Medical Society, in a recent op-ed. Ranking last across all states in the number of OBGYNs per 10,000 women, medical liability reform is a must, Elson emphasizes. To read more about the need for the Iowa legislature to take action on liability…

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December 2019 Newsletter

Personal injury attorneys target definition of a patient With courts increasingly reviewing physician liability for patients they have never treated, the answer to what defines a patient could shape the future of access to care. The issue stems from a recent case in which a Minnesota physician was held liable for harm to a patient he had never examined, reviewed her records or spoke to directly. Under review was whether or not the physician still had a “legal duty of care” following a conversation with a Nurse Practitioner, in which he recommended that the patient not be admitted to the hospital-based on a series of symptoms. The AMA’s Litigation Center, in an amicus brief, argued that the duty of care was premised on a patient-physician relationship, which was not present in this case. While lower courts agreed, highlighting the importance of informal consultations among health care professionals, the Minnesota State Supreme Court overruled these verdicts. A moot court review of the case at the 2019 AMA Interim Meeting saw audience members raise concerns about a number of issues arising from the decision, including “the chilling effect of the decision, decision-making authority of NPs and physician assistants, legal ethics and medical…

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November 2019 Newsletter

Iowa’s liability climate is changing – for worse The Iowa Medical Society (IMS) highlighted how the state’s medical liability climate is shifting and threatening access to care in the Fall edition of Iowa Medicine. In 2017, a series of reforms including certificate of merit and expert witness requirements were implemented to drive down the number of meritless lawsuits filed in the state. Unfortunately, at the time, reasonable limits on non-economic damages were included only as a “soft cap,” allowing the limit to be waived by a jury in certain instances. MaryGrace Elson, MD, MME, FACOG, President of IMS and an OB/GYN from Iowa City, highlights the outcome of the soft cap in the edition’s feature story, “Our Medical Liability System in Crisis.” “In the past three years, Iowa’s medical liability climate has shifted dramatically,” she notes. “… Iowa’s trial bar has begun cherry-picking cases where there is no dispute that a medical error occurred. Employing questionable tactics that play to juries’ emotions and drive up award expectations, we have seen a string of high-dollar verdicts against physicians and facilities.” Over the past two years, just five lawsuits have led to awards of $63 million in noneconomic damages, and impacted patient…

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Electronic-related med mal claims increasing: The Doctors

SOURCE: Business Insurance The number of medical malpractice claims stemming at least in part from electronic health records is increasing and may become a more frequent risk factor, says a report by a medical malpractice insurer. An analysis of 216 claims closed from 2010 to 2018 indicates the pace of these claims grew from a low of seven in 2010 to an average of 22.5 cases per year in 2017 and 2018, according to the study by Napa, California-based The Doctors Co. Electronic health records “are typically contributing factors rather than the primary cause of claims, and the frequency with an EHR factor continues to be low (1.1 percent of all claims closed since 2010),” says the study by Darrell Ranum, vice president of patient safety and risk management at the insurer. “Still, as EHRs approach near-universal adoption, they may become a more prevalent source of risk.” The report says the EHR-related claims closed from 2010 to 2018 were caused by either system technology and design issues, such as electronic systems or technology failure, or by user-related issues. One example presented in the study was of an elderly female patient with sinus complaints, for whom the physician intended to order…

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Don’t create unintended loopholes for medical liability cases

SOURCE: AMA A Kentucky law that, in most cases, gives patients one year to file a medical liability lawsuit does the job it was designed to do—ensuring claims are promptly and fairly adjudicated—and the judicial system shouldn’t create any unintended loopholes, physicians tell the state’s high court. Stay current on the latest on the issues impacting physicians, patients and the health care environment with the AMA’s Advocacy Update Newsletter. The Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies along with the Kentucky Medical Association on July 24 filed an amicus brief in a case before the Supreme Court of Kentucky, Sneed v. University of Louisville Hospital, that challenges the limits that the Kentucky General Assembly established. The AMA Litigation Center brief asks the court to uphold the one-year limitation period patients and attorneys have abided by for years, advising justices that letting this lawsuit go forward under a narrow doctrine that carves out longer limits in certain cases would open up a loophole and expose health care providers to “indefinite medical liability claims.” Patients with lifelong conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, or cancer and heart disease patients who require lengthy treatments, could sue…

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Bill would give liability protection to volunteer doctors in bid to cover low-income Wyomingites

Physicians and health facilities that provide voluntary care to low-income patients would have state protection for liability lawsuits under a bill being considered in the Wyoming Senate. The bill — Senate File 66 — would allow the Wyoming Department of Health to contract with volunteer health providers and facilities to make them state employees. That way, the state would “have the duty to defend a health care provider alleged to have been negligent” in delivering care. The voluntary health providers or facilities would have to offer care to low-income patients, meaning people with an income at or beneath 200 percent of the current federal poverty line, according to the bill. The measure — originally sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee — was approved by two Senate subcommittees and is currently set to be considered by the entire body. The liability of volunteer physicians has been a concern of the medical community, said Stefan Johansson, the policy administrators for the health department. “I expect there has been hesitation” to provide volunteer care, agreed Kevin Bohnenblust, the executive director of the Wyoming Board of Medicine. “That’s the nature of the times we live in.” The bill would cost about $50,000 a…

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Medical tort-reform bill moves to House

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Senate approved an omnibus medical tort-reform measure yesterday that would regulate everything from trial attorney fees, medical record copying charges and which malpractice lawsuits can advance in the courts. Among its many provisions, Senate Bill 20 would require medical malpractice lawsuits to contain an affidavit of merit. That’s a document stating that at least one doctor agrees the claim has merit. A medical review panel opinion in favor of a patient would fulfill the affidavit of merit requirement. Senate Bill 4 from 2017 created panels of experts to review claims of medical error or neglect. If the medical review panel finds in favor of the medical provider, however, the patient would still have to get an affidavit of merit to advance to court. A second provision would impose contingency caps on attorney fees in medical malpractice cases. An amendment would set those caps at no more than 33 percent of any awarded damages. “Some will argue this is an infringement on the free market,” Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who introduced the legislation. “I feel it is a protection against predatory legal practices in Kentucky.” A third provision is known as the “I’m sorry” clause. It would…

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Legal reform advocates point to medical malpractice figures in New York, Pennsylvania

ALBANY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) – Experts who have watched medical malpractice lawsuits skyrocket in states like New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey say lawmakers have made it too easy and attractive to sue and reform must happen. “New Yorkers once again pay more for medical liability than anywhere in America,” Tom Stebbins, executive director of Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York told Legal Newsline. “Sadly, Albany recently made matters worse by approving legislation that expands liability and makes it easier to file lawsuits.” The “2018 Medical Malpractice Payout Analysis” released March 1 by Diederich Health Care, a medical liability insurance and consulting company based in Carbondale, Illinois, includes figures comparing medical malpractice rates among states. Among Northeast states, New York topped the list for the most malpractice cases with a total approximate $617,973,000 in payouts with Pennsylvania second at $342,093,300, and New Jersey third with $267,913,250. The lowest in the Northeast were the District of Columbia with $11,498,500, Delaware with $8,253,250 and Vermont at the bottom with $1,536,500. Among Midwestern states, Illinois was far in the lead with $300,790,050 in payouts with Michigan second at $77,072,200. The lowest Midwestern states were Wisconsin at $13,527,100, North Dakota with $3,505,000 and…

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