HCLA Pushes for Good Samaritan legislation in pandemic preparedness reauthorization

As legislative hearings and markups were underway in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, the HCLA announced its support for including the language contained in the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act (H.R. 2819) as part of the pending reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA).

The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act would help protect medical volunteers from lawsuits during a large-scale disaster and ensure that vital health care services are available to disaster victims without altering liability laws that may currently exist in a particular state.

The PAHPA reauthorization is expected to reflect several lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic response, ensuring that our nation’s health care systems and professionals are best equipped to respond to future pandemics and public health emergencies.

“On behalf of our coalition members, patients and medical professionals across the country, we strongly urge Congress to incorporate the Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act into legislation reauthorizing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act,” said HCLA Chair Mike Stinson.

“Addressing this issue now, before the next pandemic, natural disaster, or public health emergency occurs, makes it more likely that health care professionals will be willing and able to provide essential services to those most in need of critical care.”

To read the press release supporting the Good Samaritan legislation and its inclusion in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, click here.

From the court to the courtroom: Liability threatens relationship between sports medicine providers, athletes

Sports medicine providers for elite and professional athletes are calling for a review of recent liability litigation that impacts their ability and willingness to provide such specialty care.

Led by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), an open letter with 27 co-signers that included the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, and other collegiate and professional sports leagues stated that “recent and ongoing litigation may have an enormous negative impact on the medical care of competitive and elite athletes.”

The letter is in response to several high-profile medical liability cases that involved questioning a physician’s standard of care when treating a highly paid athlete and awarding damages on future earnings.

Dr. Scott Rodeo, the head team physician for the New York Giants, said that potential liability concerns might impact the availability of qualified sports medicine experts for athletes.

“Recent cases may be the tip of the iceberg,” Rodeo said, “and some physicians may decide the visibility associated with caring for athletes may not be worth the liability risk anymore.”

The letter also challenged the existing practice regarding expert testimony in liability lawsuits, demanding a higher standard for witnesses who are called upon in cases of injured athletes.

The AOSSM letter pushed for a requirement that “testimony in support of critical medical care should come from an expert in their subspecialty,” reflecting the “extensive time and expertise” required to treat elite and professional athletes.

To read more about how sports medicine professionals are raising awareness of the increasing liability risks in administering care to top athletes, click here.

Anniversary of abortion ruling elevates liability risk

One year after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, uncertainty among providers in states with restricted abortion access has led to emerging medical liability risks.

In some instances, physicians refuse to perform abortions for women with health-threatening complications due to fear of criminal prosecution or the loss of their medical license. Facing a choice between medical ethics and personal risk, many physicians are opting out of providing abortions.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 59 percent of obstetricians and gynecologists practicing in states with specified timeframes on permissible abortions, and 61 percent of those in states with bans, are somewhat or very concerned about their legal risk when making decisions about the necessity of an abortion.

“We will absolutely see medical malpractice cases emerge,” said Dr. Diana Nordlund, an emergency physician and chair of the Medical-Legal Committee of the American College of Emergency Physicians. When physicians decide not to provide treatments widely accepted as the standard of care because of these new laws, “that’s perceived as substandard care and there is increased civil liability.”

Some attorneys are exploring lawsuits on behalf of women who claim harm from state abortion bans, such as a patient in Missouri who was refused an abortion after her water broke at 18 weeks. A federal review found that two hospitals violated a federal emergency care law by denying the patient an abortion, potentially strengthening a liability claim.

Physicians’ concerns are amplified by the fact that medical liability insurers generally do not cover damages from criminal acts, opening up their decision to take action — such as in cases where the life of the mother is at risk — to further scrutiny.

As abortion restrictions lead to further preventable complications and hospitalizations, medical liability lawsuits could be the next threat in limiting patient access to critical care. To read more, click here.

Dangers for doctors in extended statute of limitations

A bill previously under consideration in Maine would have allowed for a medical liability statute of limitations clock to start running long after a treatment took place, creating additional, lingering threats for physicians.

Currently, the state’s three-year statute of limitations for filing a liability lawsuit begins from the date medical care is rendered.

The proposed bill would have allowed the three-year clock to begin when a patient discovers alleged negligence —  extending the possibility that a provider could be faced with a medical liability lawsuit long after being able to reasonably recollect on the matter.

This extended liability could increase the number of lawsuits against a physician and the possibility of medical lawsuit abuse.

Those opposing the change cited the possibility that it could open the door to giving patients an indefinite time to sue, requiring records to be held for longer.

Anything that makes it easier for patients to bring a lawsuit will likely increase the cost of professional liability insurance, and vice versa, says Charles Silver, McDonald Endowed Chair in Civil Procedure at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

There is widespread agreement that a reasonable, but not indefinite, amount of time should be allowed for patients to file a medical liability lawsuit, and this adverse initiative in Maine would create further avenues for medical lawsuit abuse. Click here to read more.

**Editor’s Note – Since publication of the underlying article, the bill was voted “ought not to pass” by both chambers of the Maine legislature.