Oregon Ruling Spurs Concerns of Medical Liability Expansion

Oregon physicians face the threat of being wrapped up in product liability lawsuits following an appellate court ruling that expands medical liability far past its original intent of defective drugs and devices.

The court’s ruling held a hospital system in the state liable under Oregon’s strict liability statute, marking the hospital as a “seller” of a medication that later became linked to prenatal heart issues.

While the strict-liability law exempts physicians providing direct patient care, it does not explicitly extend this exemption to hospitals or physician-owned clinics and surgical centers. In Oregon and nationally, the rate of physician practice ownership has declined over the past few decades, opening up new possibilities for medical lawsuit abuse.

The Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies, along with the Oregon Medical Association, filed an amicus brief urging the Oregon Supreme Court to reverse the appellate decision.

“Penalizing a medical practice (or hospital) for an error of the manufacturer or regulator serves no valid public policy goal. On the contrary, it will have significant adverse effect,” the brief stated.

The brief argues that this interpretation stretches the scope of the statute beyond its intended purpose and could expose medical facilities and physicians to liability for defective medical devices and prescription drugs, even if the care provided met professional standards.

Now, the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision on whether to uphold or reverse the appellate ruling will significantly impact the medical landscape in the state and possibly beyond, potentially setting an expanded precedent for medical liability. Click here to read more.

Liability Lawsuits and the Lingering Impact on Care

Orthopaedic surgeons have long drawn the ire of personal injury attorneys, facing increased odds of liability lawsuits compared to many of their physician peers.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons further examines the toll these lawsuits have on their mental health.

The research, conducted by surveying 305 members of the American Orthopaedic Association, found that a staggering 73% of respondents had been involved in a medical liability lawsuit, with the likelihood rising by 7% for each year in practice and for those specializing in spine surgery.

As expected, the study revealed that lawsuits negatively affect a physician’s professional well-being, although this effect resolves over time. It also found that those with a history of lawsuits were more prone to self-reporting medical errors resulting in patient harm, even after the legal matters had been resolved.

These findings highlight the complex impact of liability lawsuits on orthopedic surgeons and suggest the necessity of safeguarding emotional wellness to preserve access to high-quality care. Click here to read more about the study and the importance of focusing on physician well-being.

Connecticut Courts Narrow Pandemic Protections

In a pair of twin rulings, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued decisions on cases that stemmed from the height of COVID-19 that could impact how future liability claims with links to pandemic-era care are handled.  

In two separate cases, the court decided that pandemic-related liability protections utilized by health care providers and facilities were weaker than originally interpreted or intended. As COVID-19 standards of care and government mandates were ever-changing through 2020 and 2021, providers and their employers relied on directives given through executive orders that offered liability protections for those on the front lines of the pandemic.

Now, those liability protections are failing to hold up in court. In one case, the state supreme court found that the provider’s argument related to administrative challenges in the wake of COVID-19 was insufficient to grant immunity. In another, the court clarified that immunity protections would only apply to actions taken to prevent, diagnose, or treat the virus but not to actions taken after the presence of the virus has been ruled out.

As the pandemic continues to live on in legal challenges that stem from care impacted by COVID-19, there remains a need to address the threat of medical lawsuit abuse through federal legislation that takes into account health care workforce shortages, inadequate safety supplies, and changing guidance from federal, state, and local government officials that were typical in the early stages of the pandemic.

To read more about how Connecticut courts have narrowed pandemic protections that could affect those who provided critical care at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.