New Law Hampers Injured Patients’ Right To Compensation

According to the American Medical Association, the total amount paid as the result of medical malpractice lawsuits had dropped steadily since 2003. The drop has not been the result of a reduction in medical errors. A government study of Medicare beneficiaries showed that 134,000 such patients suffered adverse events every month in 2010. Many of those adverse events were described as “clearly or likely preventable.” The reduction in medical malpractice payments has instead been the result of lobbying efforts and legislation passed to make it difficult for people who have harmed by negligent doctors and hospitals to collect money. A new Florida law is furthering that trend.

SB 1792, as the law is designated, redefines the group of people who can qualify as expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases. The Governor signed the bill last week and declared, “Every decision that I make comes down to one word – jobs.” While it is not clear how this measure will create jobs, it is clear that it will create a more hostile environment for people who have been injured or for the families of those who have been killed by medical negligence. By adding to the burden faced by malpractice victims, the State seeks to protect negligent doctors and hospitals from being held accountable for their actions.

The old law allowed the use of expert witnesses who were healthcare providers practicing in the same or similar specialty as the offending doctor. The new law requires malpractice victims to find expert witnesses with the exact same specialty, regardless of whether the medical procedure required such a specialist to perform it. The law does not further justice. It simply shrinks the pool of available witnesses and makes pursuing compensation a more difficult and expensive proposition for those who have been harmed.

Source: Sunshine State News, “Rick Scott Signs Expert Witness Standard Overhauls into Law,” by Eric Giunta, 5 June 2013