Minnesota liability ruling trends towards dangerous precedent for patients

Setting a troubling precedent that could limit collaborative patient care efforts, the Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of expanding liability and opening the door for an increase in medical lawsuit abuse.

In mid-April, the Court issued a ruling case of Warren v. Dinter, reversing precedent and stating that the existence of a physician-patient relationship was not a prerequisite for bringing forth a medical liability lawsuit.

The Court declared that legal actions could proceed if the harm suffered by an individual — even if they were not considered a patient of the physician — was a “reasonably foreseeable consequence” of the physician’s actions.

Supporting the defendant were the American Medical Association (AMA), Minnesota Medical Association (MMA), and the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA), on the basis that this new precedent could expose physicians and other health professionals to expanded liability risks in situations that were previously protected, including unbilled consultations, and discourage collaboration.

“The overall expansive language in the Court’s opinion does raise concerns,” said Mark Fogg, general counsel of COPIC, MMA’s endorsed medical professional liability insurance provider. “We respectfully believe that it is important that a physician-patient relationship be established before any liability may occur for alleged medical malpractice.”

To read more about how the ruling could be harmful to the state’s health care system, click here.

HCLA supports newly introduced Good Samaritan legislation

Continued concerns about lack of access to care in the wake of a disaster have resulted in the introduction of Good Samaritan legislation by a bipartisan group of Senators.

The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act (S. 1350) 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.

“Health care professionals often seek out opportunities to assist when disaster strikes – but the threat of lawsuits may limit their ability to provide care or cause them to be turned away altogether,” said HCLA Chair Mike Stinson. “This legislation better protects patients and victims of catastrophic events by ensuring health care providers can volunteer to provide critical care services outside of their home state.”

Introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the bill is supported by fellow Senators Angus King (I-ME), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Boozman (R-AR), and James Inhofe (R-OK).

Support for the bill has derived from current inconsistencies in state laws that result in a reduction of health care professionals available to treat disaster victims, especially when applied to large-scale disasters that may cross state lines and affect patient care.

A companion bill in the House is expected to follow soon. For more information, click here to read HCLA’s Good Samaritan fact sheet.

Reasonable limits on non-economic damages challenged in Oregon

Reasonable limits on non-economic damages have been on the books in Oregon for 32 years, but face another challenge just two years after being upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Oregon patients with a favorable liability ruling can be awarded up to $500,000 in noneconomic damages, with full recovery of awards for economic damages, which include past, medical bills, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, etc.

Now, a bill in the state legislature threatens to remove this limit. HB 2014 passed the House in March and now heads to the Senate for a possible floor vote.

In a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bryan Boehringer, executive vice president of the Oregon Medical Association, testified that doing so will drive up medical liability rates for doctors and that consumers ultimately will pay the passed-along costs.

Dr. Carrie Miles, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Northwest Portland, also shared her experience facing a liability lawsuit and how removing the caps impacted her availability to see patients.

“This was four years preparing for court, three weeks out of my practice being in court and considerable stress for myself, my partners, my patients,” Miles said. “From a personal standpoint, I can tell you that as a physician, the idea of lifting the cap on noneconomic damages is terrifying.”

To read more about efforts to remove reasonable limits on non-economic damages in Oregon, click here.