Op-ed: Patients deserve protection from medical mistakes
By Rebecca J. Britton
Fayetteville Observer – Fayetteville, NC
Preventable medical mistakes kill 4,000 patients and permanently injure
5,700 patients every year in North Carolina. That’s not according to the
“trial lawyers” – that’s from the New England Journal of Medicine, the
most prestigious medical publication in the country. Medical malpractice
kills more people every year in North Carolina than the combined death
toll from car wrecks, breast cancer and murder.
So what is our legislature, with its new majority, doing right now to
solve this health care crisis that threatens the lives and health of
people in North Carolina?
In response to 9,700 North Carolinians being severely harmed by
preventable medical mistakes every year, Senate Bill 33 sets a
one-size-fits-all cap on damages for disfigurement, mutilation, loss of
a limb, pain, suffering and death resulting from medical malpractice.
Yes, no matter how badly you or a loved one are disfigured, no matter
how much pain you or a loved one are in and how much you or that loved
one suffer, and no matter how many years or decades that suffering will
go on, those damages are capped at $500,000. One size fits all, no
matter what the facts of the individual case are.
So, let’s make it cheaper for the few bad-apple health care providers
who injure their patients. Let’s take the losses these patients suffer
and put them on the backs of taxpayers. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t
it? That’s what Senate Bill 33 does.
Doing more damage
There is more: Senate Bill 33 also gives emergency room negligence a
free pass. Yes, Senate Bill 33 gives immunity to hospital ERs and
doctors – if they are negligent and harm, maim or kill you or a loved
one, there is nothing you can do about it. Can you imagine?
Think about when you take your child or your elderly parent to the ER.
If the people who treat them are negligent and harm them, do you want to
give them a free pass? Do you think it is fair that the people who treat
them are free to violate their own professional standards with no
consequence? Do you think this will improve patient safety?
Despite the fact that the filing of malpractice lawsuits in North
Carolina has steadily and sharply decreased over the last 10 years,
despite the fact that less than 5 percent of patients harmed by
malpractice actually file suit, and despite the fact that health care
providers already have more protection from lawsuits than any other
individual or profession in this state, Senate Bill 33 is speeding
toward enactment as legislators give a green light to malpractice.
We are all patients. We are all entitled to good and appropriate medical
care and most of us get that in this community. But if we do not get
appropriate care and we are harmed by it, that care provider should not
get a free pass. That is why they have insurance, just like we do.
Speaking of insurance, guess who the big supporters of this bill are?
You’ve got it – insurance companies. If you do not speak up to your
local legislators, you or anyone in your family could soon be one of the
casualties of Senate Bill 33.
Rebecca J. Britton is a lawyer at Britton Law, P.A., in Fayetteville and
past president of North Carolina Advocates for Justice. You can see the
malpractice bill at ncga.state.nc.us/ Sessions/2011/Bills/Senate/