Category Archives: Tennessee

Rural America’s Childbirth Crisis: The Fight to Save Whitney Brown

Whitney Brown was in labor with her first baby when suddenly she couldn’t breathe. Convulsions shook her body. Ms. Brown’s blood pressure and oxygen levels dropped, and the baby’s heart rate plunged. Nurses at Saint Thomas River Park Hospital called obstetrician Dawnmarie Riley, who minutes later burst into the operating room in such a rush her hospital scrubs were inside out. Dr. Riley delivered the baby girl in an emergency caesarean section, and Ms. Brown was taken to intensive care. Doctors at River Park, the only hospital in a central Tennessee county of 40,000 people, didn’t know what had caused Ms. Brown’s seizure. But they knew one thing: The 28-year-old woman needed more than they could provide. What followed was a race to save Ms. Brown, a high-risk medical challenge that would involve frantic requests for transportation, an hour-and-a-half ambulance ride through mountains and the rain, and last-minute medical interventions as she tore through the hospital’s blood supplies. Since the start of the century, it has become more dangerous to have a baby in rural America. Pregnancy-related complications are rising across the U.S., and many require specialized care. For some women, the time and distance from hospitals with the resources…

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TMA seeks constitutional amendment to preserve malpractice damage caps

Despite a series of tort-reform measures approved by lawmakers in recent years, Tennessee physicians say they need further protection — in the form of an amendment to the state constitution — against the threat of large awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. The Tennessee Medical Association is asking legislators this year to start the process of amending the constitution to add language stipulating that the General Assembly can set caps on noneconomic damages in litigation. It’s a process that would take three years, with both chambers needing to pass a resolution by simple majorities this year and two-thirds majorities next year before voters are asked to approve it in 2018. Although the exact language wasn’t available last week, the resolution would state that an individual’s right to trial by jury is not abridged if there are limits placed on noneconomic damages. Noneconomic damages generally refer to pain and suffering and mental anguish, for which a 2011 law capped awards at $750,000 per occurrence, or at $1 million in cases with catastrophic injuries or losses. The change would not apply to economic damages, such as medical costs and lost wages. The proposed resolution comes in response to a recent preliminary ruling by…

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Tennessee doctors want malpractice payout limits in constitution

Fearful that Tennessee courts could eventually strike down a 2011 law capping jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, doctors plan to press legislators to protect the statute through amending the state’s constitution. The Tennessee Medical Association wants lawmakers to put before voters new constitutional language clarifying that the General Assembly has authority to set caps on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering in cases involving medical malpractice liability. The group’s would require persuading lawmakers in the current GOP-dominated 109th General Assembly to approve the proposed amendment in 2016 and then getting their successors in the 110th General Assembly to pass it by a two-thirds majority. If it wins approval from lawmakers, it would go before voters on the 2018 ballot to decide. “The General Assembly needs to act now to prevent us from going backwards on the issue of a noneconomic damages cap,” Dr. John Hale, president of the Tennessee Medical Association said in a recent statement. “The cap fosters growth in Tennessee’s health care industry by cutting back on frivolous lawsuits and the costs that come with them. “I’m confident Tennessee voters will support it if given the chance to have their voices heard,” Hale added. But a…

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MO Lawmakers Relax Volunteers’ Medical Malpractice Liability

Missouri lawmakers voted Wednesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of SB 129, the Volunteer Health Services Act, which relaxes medical malpractice liability for volunteers. “This is going to increase access to health care for thousands of Missourians at no cost to the taxpayer,” Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, who sponsored the bill, told Watchdog. The measure waives civil penalties against volunteers unless there is a “gross deviation from the ordinary standard of care or willful misconduct.” The change means health professionals can donate their services without fear of lawsuits. The cost of liability insurance kept many retired physicians and other health workers from volunteering in their communities, Sater told Watchdog last month. “We just want them to work within the scope of their practice and if they do that and follow the standard of care, which we have in the bill, then they won’t have to fear being sued for some frivolous stuff,” said Sater, a pharmacist by training. The new law also allows health professionals licensed in other states to practice in Missouri as long as they are providing free care. Charitable groups like the Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical rely on out-of-state physicians and nurses to staff their events….

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TN gov signs bill placing caps on lawsuit payouts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A measure to cap payouts for medical malpractice and other civil cases is good for business in Tennessee, said Gov. Bill Haslam, who signed the bill Thursday. The law places a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, and the cap will be raised to $1 million in cases involving serious spinal cord injuries, severe burns or the death of a parent of minor children. Punitive damages are capped at twice the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. “We wanted to make sure we did everything we could to protect victims’ rights, but also have a predictable playing field for businesses,” said the Republican governor. Valerie Nagoshiner, acting director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Tennessee, said the law should help. “Small businesses are especially vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits,” Nagoshiner said in a release. “It’s hard enough for them to defend themselves against even the weakest of claims, but one outrageous jury award or one frivolous lawsuit can be the difference between a small, family-owned business staying open or closing for good.” Critics say the law weakens company accountability and juries should decide damages. “Everyone should be held accountable…

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Tenn. Doctors Continue Pursuit of Malpractice Caps

Tennessee doctors pushed for Congress to put caps on malpractice awards, but the health care reform bill signed into law this week by President Obama sets no such limits. Now, the Tennessee Medical Association is pinning its hopes on the next General Assembly. The organization will question legislative candidates about malpractice caps, then post their stances on its Web site. “It’s important as we go to the polls in November that if you are concerned about this that you find out what your candidate’s position is on medical liability reform,” said Dr. Michael Minch, president-elect of the TMA. Tennessee is losing doctors – especially those who practice high-risk specialties – to states that have enacted malpractice caps, he said. The TMA just released a survey of 120 state doctors. The survey, conducted during December and January, gauged the climate for practicing medicine in Tennessee since the passage of a 2008 state malpractice law. That law reduced the number of “frivolous lawsuits,” said Minch, but it did not enact caps on non-economic damages. Ninety-six percent of survey responders said defensive medicine costs remained a serious problem, while 87 percent said future physician supply was also a serious problem. “Even though 60…

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