Breaking News:

Insurance lobbyists and some North Carolina lawmakers are moving to take away your rights and make you less safe. Legislators are getting ready to vote on Senate Bill 33, a radical version of “malpractice reform” – the insurance industry’s euphemism for denying injured patients access to the courts … and for  ignoring patient safety.

Learn here how you can send a powerful message:  Lawmakers need to focus on improving patient safety, not limiting the rights of injured patients.  You have a right to a trial by jury — not a trial by corporate interests.


Senate Bill 33 and House Bill 542 propose to change the standard of liability for care provided in the emergency room from ordinary negligence to gross negligence, effectively barring all claims for ER malpractice.  Backers of the bill argue that hospitals and physicians face such a high risk of liability for ER care that they need relief from the legislature. The facts belie their argument.

According to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, there have been a total of 54 verdicts for plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases since 1999.  The North Carolina Coalition for Patient Safety (NC-CPS) obtained and reviewed the complaints and verdict sheets in each of those 54 cases.  In only six of the 54 cases (11%) were allegations made against ER providers, and in one of those six cases the verdict was against other co-defendants — and not against those who provided care in the ER.[i]

ER providers were found liable in only five cases in North Carolina since 1999 – less than once every two years.[ii]

In two cases, the issues of liability and damages were bifurcated, and the case settled confidentially after the liability determination in the plaintiff’s favor. In the three ER malpractice cases in which the plaintiff obtained an award of damages since 1999, the verdicts were $650,000, $592,950, and $427,500, with an average jury award of $556,817.

According to the UNC Department of Emergency Medicine, there are more than 4,000,000 ER visits per year in North Carolina.[iii]

A verdict based on ER negligence occurs approximately once per 8,000,000 ER visits.

Contrast the tiny risk of liability for a North Carolina ER provider with the patient’s risk of being harmed by malpractice.  According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 4,000 patients are killed and 5,700 are permanently injured each year in North Carolina hospitals because of preventable medical mistakes.[iv] The annual number of deaths caused by medical mistakes in North Carolina hospitals exceeds the combined death toll from automobile accidents, breast cancer and murder.[v]

Who needs more protection: hospitals and ER doctors, or patients?

Under the current negligence standard in North Carolina, the risk that an ER provider will be found liable is miniscule.  ER providers need no additional protection from the legislature.

Laurie Sanders, Executive Director, North Carolina Coalition for Patient Safety

[i] Phillips v. Howard (Rutherford County, 2005 CVS 54) (2008).

[ii] Haynes v. Odell (Cleveland County, 1998 CVS 286)(1999); Frye v. Frye Regional Medical Center (Catawba County, 1998 CVS 2692) (2000); Collins v. Rodden (Jackson County, 2000 CVS 580) (2002); Carter v. Taiwo (Martin County, 2002 CVS 444) (2004); and Nguyen v. Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, Inc. (Jackson County, 2009 CVS 261) (2010).

[iii] University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The UNC Department of Emergency Medicine Carolina Center for Health Informatics Report, NC DETECT Emergency Department Data: 2008 (2010).

[iv] Landrigan, Temporal Trends in Rates of  Patient Harm Resulting from Medical Care, New England Journal of Medicine (November 25, 2010);  American Hospital Association, Hospital Statistics (2010) (1,041,918 admissions to NC hospitals in 2008).

[v] North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, Mortality Statistics, 2008.