Medical Malpractice Relief: Sovereign Immunity Sought for Emergency Room Physicians

Author: Albert M. Rodriguez

Once again, legislation has been proposed in the Florida House and Senate to extend sovereign immunity coverage to physicians providing care in emergency rooms. The proposed legislation would make the physicians agents of the State and limit their liability to $200,000 per claim.

Critics of the bill maintain that emergency room physicians already enjoy sufficient protection with statutory caps to medical malpractice claims and argue that additional protection will remove physician accountability, potentially decreasing the quality of care.

However, what the critics of the proposed legislation fail to appreciate is that providing this type of care presents a high risk situation that demands high medical malpractice insurance premiums and frequently exposes emergency room physicians to lawsuits, regardless of whether or not they are responsible for a bad medical outcome. Further, despite the risks, state and federal law require emergency room physicians to provide emergency care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay or the type of their injury or illness, without providing these physicians any protection from liability exposure.

While it is hard to quantify how many specialists have left the state and/or stopped providing care in emergency rooms due to the liability exposure and its associated costs, it is clear that the State must provide physicians an incentive to continue to provide these essential public services if it wants to avoid a future shortage of emergency room physicians.

Please visit the links below to view H.B. 385 and H.B. 614:
http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2012/0385/BillText/Filed/PDF
http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2012/0614/BillText/Filed/PDF

One response

  1. Like everything, this can have two sides. From the standpoint of a practicing emergency physician with experience as an expert witness, there is attraction in the idea that this proposal could potentially lower medical malpractice insurance costs, and ensure emergency physicians would not have huge numbers associated with settlements or trial awards in the National Practitioner Data Bank. The flip side is from my experience as an expert witness; more than once I’ve heard attorneys tell me that expenses on a case must be limited because “the case isn’t worth that much.” The complexity of the case may be high, and the amount of work required to do aan exceptinoal job (the only kind of job I strive to do) may be very high, but the bill for the hours worked may not be high. I would fear there would be too many doctors entering the National Practitioner Data Bank – a widespread concern – because with a $200 K “cap” on awards, they may not get an adequate defense, particularly if the case is complex with a requirement for experts from multiple specialties.

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