Our National Health Service turns 70 in July and has made remarkable achievements since its inception on July 5, 1948. The NHS is quite rightly an institution to be proud of, and it is envied across the world. Admittedly, the NHS does have its problems, but these should not detract from an overall appreciation of its core value to our society.
In 70 years a lot has happened. Nursing and medicine have evolved, new treatments, and medicines have been developed to cope with new diseases, and our concept of health has also changed.
Health is no longer just the absence of disease; it’s a far more holistic concept today.
Since its inception, the NHS has had to deal with clinical negligence claims. Today there is mounting concern that the high level and costs of clinical negligence claims threaten the very existence and fabric of the NHS.
Exactly what must be done to reduce levels and costs remains a topic of intense speculation and conjecture.
STEIN on Medical Malpractice has recently published a survey of noteworthy court decisions in the field for 2017. This survey includes an important decision, Weaver v. Myers, 229 So.3d 1118 (Fla. 2017), that voided Florida statute allowing defendants in medical malpractice suits to hold ex parte interviews with the aggrieved patient’s care providers.
The case at bar involved a medical malpractice suit filed in connection with the patient’s allegedly wrongful death. The defendants attempted to take advantage of Florida’s pre-suit discovery statute, Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 766.106, 766.1065. This statute authorized defense attorneys to hold secret ex parte interviews with all doctors and organizations that have ever provided treatment to the deceased patient.
The Florida Supreme Court decided that this statute violates the broad constitutional right to privacy under Fla. Const. art. 1, § 23. The Court reasoned that “The ex parte secret interview provisions of sections 766.106 and 766.1065 fail to protect Florida citizens from even accidental disclosures of confidential medical information that falls outside the scope of the claim because there would be no one present on the claimant’s behalf to ensure that the potential defendant, his insurers, his attorneys, or his experts do not ask for disclosure of information from a former treating health care provider that is totally irrelevant to the claim.” The Court also clarified that “the right to privacy in the Florida Constitution attaches during the life of a citizen and is not retroactively destroyed by death. Here, the constitutional protection operates in the specific context of shielding irrelevant, protected medical history and other private information from the medical malpractice litigation process. Furthermore, in the wrongful death context, standing in the position of the decedent, the administrator of the decedent’s estate has standing to assert the decedent’s privacy rights. Finally, the Legislature unconstitutionally conditioned a plaintiff’s right of access to courts for redress of injuries caused by medical malpractice, whether in the wrongful death or personal injury context, on the claimant’s waiver of the constitutional right to privacy.”
STEIN on Medical Malpractice has published a survey of noteworthy court decisions in the field for 2017. This survey includes an important decision, North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, 219 So.3d 49 (Fla. 2017), that voided Florida’s cap on medical malpractice victims’ noneconomic damages, Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 766.118(2), 766.118(3).
Section 766.118(2) provides that in a cause of action for personal injury arising from the medical negligence of practitioners, the noneconomic damages award shall not exceed $500,000 per claimant; however, if the negligence resulted in a permanent vegetative state or death, or if the negligence caused a catastrophic injury and a manifest injustice would occur unless increased damages are awarded, then damages may be awarded in an amount up to $1 million. Section 766.118(3) similarly limits damages to $750,000 and $1.5 million, respectively, when the injury results from the negligence of non-practitioners.
Based on the precedent laid down in McCall v. United States, 134 So.3d 894 (Fla. 2014), and discussed here, (holding Florida’s cap on wrongful-death noneconomic damages unconstitutional), the Florida Supreme Court held that Section 766.118 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution. Art. I, § 2, Fla. Const. The Court reasoned that Section 766.118 arbitrarily reduces the damages that may be awarded to the most drastically injured victims and that this arbitrary reduction is “not rationally related to alleviating the purported medical malpractice crisis…”
UK national and social media have been buzzing all last week about a letter sent on Monday 29th January 2018 by the NHS Confederation to the Justice Secretary and copying in the Secretary of State for Health.BBC news set the scene under the banner headline, ‘Curb rising NHS negligence pay-outs, health leaders urge’.
The NHS Confederation is a charity and membership body that brings together and speaks on behalf of all organisations that plan, commission and provide NHS services. Members are drawn from every part of the health and care system. The letter coordinated by them had several co-signatories in the medical establishment including the Chief Executives of the doctor’s defence organisations, the British Medical Association (BMA), The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. The letter said that the current level of NHS compensation pay-outs is unsustainable and is diverting significant amounts of funding away from front line care services. Last year the NHS spent £1.7 billion on clinical negligence claims, representing 1.5 % of front line health services spending. This annual cost has almost doubled since 2010/11 with an average 11.5 % increase every year:
The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts (Committee of Public Accounts) has recently considered the issue of managing the increasing clinical negligence costs in NHS (National Health Service) hospitals in a report. They make a number of important recommendations as well as putting into the spotlight a number of developing trends and themes. The report is linked to a report recently published by the National Audit Office on managing clinical negligence costs.This report is closely examined by the Committee with witnesses giving oral and written evidence.
The high cost of clinical negligence litigation
The report begins with a statement on the high and increasing cost of clinical negligence which sets the scene and tone for the rest of the report The Committee has raised concerns about the rising costs of clinical negligence on a number of previous occasions going back as far as 2002. The questions and answers of witnesses called by the Committee do reveal some very interesting and telling insights into the issues and the problems faced. Continue reading →
The Department of Health and the government in England have published a draft Bill for discussion which will create a Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) with powers enshrined in law. The HSSIB replaces the current Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) which operates under the umbrella of NHS Improvement and came into operation in April 2017. Unlike the HSIB, the new HSSIB will be independent of the NHS, and have its own statutory power base. The HSSIB will not be responsible for investigating all serious patient safety incidents in the NHS and existing frameworks will remain.
Eight fact sheets have been published by the Department of Health to accompany the draft Bill which explain its purpose and rationale and how everything will work. It is expected that the HSSIB will investigate up to 30 serious patient safety issues a year and will have an annual budget of £3.8 Million.
It will be important for the HSSIB to manage public and NHS expectations of what it can actually achieve given its small budget, staffing and the number of investigations that it intends to carry out. There are around 24,000 serious patient safety incidents a year in the NHS. The small-scale operation of the HSSIB can be justified as it will act as an exemplar of good investigative practice and will cascade down standards into the NHS.
NHS Resolution (the new operating name for the NHS LA, National Health Service Litigation Authority) occupies a central role in the NHS clinical negligence claims environment. They manage clinical negligence claims on behalf of NHS trusts (hospitals) and other bodies. They also provide indemnity cover and have an increasing role in assisting the NHS with risk management and patient safety.
NHS Resolution have recently published their Annual Report and Accounts which contains important data, trends, case studies and other information on clinical negligence and patient safety. This report also very clearly signals the new more inclusive, upstream, closer to the problem approach that NHS Resolution is now taking to its work.
The Medical Protection Society (MPS) have recently published a report arguing that the rising costs of clinical negligence needs to be urgently controlled. They state that the NHS is struggling under the increasing burden of clinical negligence costs and suggest some reforms.The report is detailed and thorough and raises some good and interesting points but in reading it, it should be remembered that there is also a very good contrary position that can be advanced by those who act for patients in clinical negligence litigation. This report puts the issues to test.
The report begins by looking at the increasing costs of clinical negligence claims. Costs have increased over the years and the figures are stark. The report quotes figures from NHS Resolution, the new name for the NHS LA (National Health Service Litigation Authority) who estimates that the provision for future clinical negligence costs, relating to claims arising from incidents that have already occurred, stands at £56.1 billion:
“Expenditure on clinical claims by NHS Resolution increased by 72% (11.5% a year on average) over the five years to 2015/16. Should this trend continue it risks becoming wholly unsustainable for the NHS and wider society, which ultimately pays for these cost. Last year alone, nearly £1.5billion was spent and, put into context, this equates to the cost of training over 6,500 new doctors.(p4).”Continue reading →
Policymakers and scholars interested in medical malpractice and torts generally should read Billeaudeau v. Opelousas General Hospital Authority, — So.3d —-, 2016 WL 6123862 (La. 2016). In this recent and important decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that suits alleging negligent credentialing against a hospital sound in regular negligence, rather than medical malpractice, and consequently fall outside the purview of the state’s Medical Malpractice Act (MMA) and its limitations on liability. The Court made this decision in connection with the state’s cap on damages recoverable in medical malpractice actions, La. Rev. Stat. § 40:1231.2(B)(1), which limits the total amount that courts can award the victim to $500,000, plus interest and cost, on top of the victim’s future expenditures on medical care and support. For many victims of medical malpractice and their families this cap amount is meager, but the Court nonetheless upheld its constitutionality back in 1992. See Butler v. Flint Goodrich Hosp., 607 So.2d 517 (La. 1992).
The Court has now decided that suits alleging negligent credentialing against hospitals are not subject to this cap and that successful plaintiffs consequently will recover full compensation for any proven damage. Continue reading →
In the UK, the Department of Health (DH) have just published a consultation paper on introducing fixed recoverable costs in lower value clinical negligence claims. The document contains some controversial proposals which many claimant, patient lawyers are very concerned about. They feel the proposals will make it much harder for patients with lower value claims to find a solicitor to fight their case .The publication of the consultation paper comes in the wake of criticism that some clinical negligence claimant lawyers, solicitor firms , make excessive and unreasonable costs demands. The NHS LA (The National Health Service Litigation Authority) which manages negligence and other claims against the NHS in England states:
“Claimant costs for lower value claims are disproportionate and excessive. For claims where compensation is less than £10,000, claimant lawyers recover almost three times more in costs on average.”(p.10)
The DH Consultation Paper begins by stating the annual cost of clinical negligence in the NHS. It has risen from £1.2bn in 2014/15 to £1.5bn in 2015/2016.Legal costs were 34% of the 2015/16 expenditure.The consultation paper states that the current system of claims resolution is often lengthy and adversarial. This creates what can be termed a dual problem. Delaying possible learning of lessons from incidents and also escalating the costs of litigation when claims are brought. Continue reading →
There are some very interesting Government patient safety and access to justice policy development activities currently going on in England.
In maternity services, there is a clear recognition by Government that safety is inconsistent and that there is significant scope for improvement. Our still birth rates are amongst the highest in Europe despite the National Health Service (NHS) making advances in patient safety in this area. In the National Maternity Review we are reminded that half of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections of maternity services result in safety assessments that are either ‘inadequate’ (7%) or ‘requires improvement (41%) (page 22). The CQC is the independent regulator of health and social care in England.
In a speech to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in London, the Secretary of State for Health, 17th October, 2016, Jeremy Hunt laid out plans to make giving birth safer, including maternity safety funding and other related matters. The Government’s ambition is to halve neonatal death, stillbirth, maternal death and brain injuries caused during or shortly after labour by 2030 and a series of measures were launched. There will be a £250,000 maternity safety innovation fund and a new national Maternity and Neonatal Health Quality Improvement Programme. New maternity ratings will also be published to help improve transparency, raise standards and will give families better information about the quality of local maternity services.
Pike v. Hagaman, — S.E.2d —- 2016 WL 3097727 (Va. 2016), is a must-read for anyone interested in medical malpractice and health law. This new decision of the Virginia Supreme Court grants state-owned hospitals and their personnel categorical sovereign-immunity protection against medical malpractice suits.Continue reading →
In its recent decision, Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hosp., 369 P.3d 229 (Ca. 2016), the California Supreme Court has sharpened the critical distinction between “medical malpractice” and general negligence.
Under California statute, a plaintiff’s ability to file a medical malpractice suit expires in one year after the accrual of the cause of action. The statute tolls this period for two additional years, provided that the plaintiff files the suit within one year after he discovers the injury or could reasonably have discovered it. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 340.5 (providing that suits for medical malpractice must be filed “three years after the date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury, whichever occurs first.”). For other personal injury suits, the limitations period is “two years of the date on which the challenged act or omission occurred.” Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 335.1.
In the case at bar, the plaintiff was injured when one of the rails on her hospital bed collapsed. Continue reading →
Three years ago, Oregon’s Supreme Court voided the state’s $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages for medical malpractice for violating the constitutional guarantee that “In all civil cases the right of Trial by Jury shall remain inviolate” (Or. Const., Art. I, § 17, as interpreted in Lakin v. Senco Products, Inc., 987 P.2d 463, modified, 987 P.2d 476 (Or. 1999)). Klutschkowski v. Oregon Medical Group, 311 P.3d 461 (Or. 2013). This cap also clashed with “every man’s” right to “remedy by due course of law for injury done him in his person, property, or reputation” (Or. Const., Art. I, § 10, as interpreted in Smothers v. Gresham Transfer, Inc., 23 P.3d 333 (Or. 2001), and in Hughes v. PeaceHealth, 178 P.3d 225 (Or. 2008)). The Court reasoned that a person’s right to recover full jury-assessed compensation for injuries recognized as actionable in 1857, when Oregon adopted its constitution, cannot be abolished or abridged by statute or common law. For my discussion of the Klutschowski decision, see here. For my discussion of a similar entrenchment principle adopted by the Utah Supreme Court in Smith v. United States, 356 P.3d 1249 (Utah 2015), see here.
The Oregon Supreme Court has now changed this course in a long precedential decision, Horton v. Oregon Health and Science University, — P.3d —- 359 Or. 168 (Or. 2016). Continue reading →
Courts coalesce around the view that patient fall injuries are actionable only as medical malpractice except when the care provider acts with intent or malice. This approach gives providers of medical care all the protections that benefit defendants in medical malpractice cases (compulsory suit-screening panel procedure, merit certificate / affidavit as a prerequisite for filing suit, stringent and short time-bars for filing suits that use both limitations and repose mechanisms, strict same-specialty requirement for expert witnesses, damage caps, and other protections).
The recent decision of the Louisiana Court of Appeals, White v. Glen Retirement System, — So.3d —- (La.App.2d Cir. 2016) 2016 WL 1664502, continues this trend. Continue reading →
About forty-five years ago, tort reforms took off and states have started capping compensation awards for victims of medical malpractice. The plaintiffs bar countered this initiative by raising different constitutional challenges against caps. Those challenges alluded to equal protection, due process, separation of powers, and the general right to a jury trial. Some state courts have rejected those challenges, while other courts have struck the caps down for being unconstitutional. For discussion and the list of representative cases, see Alex Stein, Toward a Theory of Medical Malpractice, 97 Iowa L. Rev. 1201, 1253-54 (2012).
Courts’ decisions in favor and against the caps juxtaposed the victim’s entitlement to remedy against society’s interest in reducing doctors’ compensation burden and cost of liability insurance. Courts that gave precedence to the latter interest did so in the hopes to contain the cost of medical care for patients. The “trickle down” theory underlying these hopes has been questioned on empirical and doctrinal grounds. See Tom Baker, The Medical Malpractice Myth 1-21 (2005) (demonstrating that claims linking the cost of medical care to medical-malpractice liability are empirically unfounded and calling them an “urban legend”) and Stein, id. at 1247-56 (showing that, as a doctrinal matter, doctors can be found responsible for patients’ injuries only in extreme cases and that a rational physician should care more about being identified and reported to the federal databank as a malpractitioner than about how much she will pay if found liable). The Florida Supreme Court has rejected that theory in a recent decision, McCall v. United States, 134 So.3d 894 (Fla. 2014), that relied (inter alia) on Tom Baker’s work. For my discussion of this landmark decision, see here.
For obvious reasons, plaintiffs’ attorneys are loath to depend on such tradeoffs and prefer to base their claims on constitutional rights that are not subject to balancing. Continue reading →
Bad news for Nevada’s victims of medical malpractice. This state’s Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages as limiting recovery for all kinds of victims and injuries. Tam v. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., — P.3d —- , 2015 WL 5771245 (Nev. 2015). Moreover, the Court held that the cap applies per incident, which encompasses all mistakes that the doctor may have made in delivering a single treatment to a patient and all the victims of those mistakes (such as twins born with birth defects as a result of negligent prenatal care or delivery). For my discussion of the “per incident” and alternative approaches to caps, see here. Continue reading →
A recent California Supreme Court decision, Rashidi v. Moser, — P.3d —- (Cal. 2014), must be read by anyone interested in medical malpractice and in torts generally.
This decision involved a very serious incident of medical malpractice. A patient underwent surgery to stop severe nosebleed. His doctor ran a catheter through an artery in his leg up into his nose. Tiny particles were injected through the catheter to irreversibly block certain blood vessels. The particles, however, traveled to places other than the intended sites. As a result, when the patient awoke after the surgery he was permanently blind in one eye. He sued the doctor and the hospital for medical malpractice and the particles’ manufacturer for products liability. Subsequently, the patient settled with the particles’ manufacturer for $2,000,000 and with the hospital for another $350,000. The case went to trial against the doctor alone. Continue reading →
Cefaratti v. Aranow, — A.3d —- (Conn.App. 2014) is a textbook decision on the “continuous act” exceptions to the statute of repose. This decision of the Connecticut Appeals Court draws an important – but oft-missed – distinction between “continuous wrong” and “continuous treatment.”
Back in 2003, the plaintiff underwent open gastric bypass surgery in an attempt to cure her morbid obesity. Her follow-up treatment and monitoring took place between 2004 and the summer of 2009. All these procedures have been carried out by the same surgeon, the defendant, at a hospital in which he had attending privileges as an independent contractor.
The plaintiff testified at her deposition that on each of her post-operative visits, she told the defendant that she was experiencing abdominal pain. In August 2009, after being diagnosed with breast cancer by another physician, the plaintiff had a CT scan of her chest, abdomen, and pelvis, which revealed the presence of a foreign object in her abdominal cavity. This object was a surgical sponge that the defendant negligently left when he operated the plaintiff in 2003. Following that discovery, the plaintiff filed a malpractice suit against the defendant. Continue reading →