Medical malpractice tort reform bills criticized


Two bills seeking to increase the evidence requirements for malpractice suits related to emergency room visits are receiving some sharp criticism.

HB 338 and SB 115 would up the standards of evidence required to wage a malpractice suit against an emergency room service provider. They haven’t been heard by a committee yet.

The Utah Citizens Alliance, an organization that works for accountability and safety in health care, strongly opposes the bills. Myrleen Kelly, a member of the UCA, says the bills are designed to protect doctors.

The Utah Medical Association supports HB 338, as well as the similar bill, SB 115. Mark Fotheringham, spokesman for the UMA, said he thinks the standard to prove fault in malpractice should be higher.

Kelly said that when patients are in an ER, they are not in a position to have a notepad to collect evidence in case something goes wrong. Kelly said that the bill is “sneaky and it’s horrible.”

Kelly lost her husband nine years ago after a doctor who, according to Kelly, was not qualified to be practicing in an ER, and misdiagnosed a stroke as high blood pressure. Kelly sued and won, but she says that if this bill were in place when her husband died in an Orem hospital, she wouldn’t have had a chance of winning.

“The one thing that needs to be understood is that these bills do not provide immunity from a lawsuit,” Fotheringham said.

“The emergency room is such a unique environment,” he added. “The doctors that work there don’t have a choice to treat or not to treat a patient. They must treat and they do that with a limited knowledge of medical background, sometimes not knowing the patient’s name.”

The American College of Emergency Room Physicians has ranked Utah at 43rd in the nation for access to emergency room care, receiving an overall grade of “D.” It criticized Utah for having a liability law climate that detracts physicians from practicing in Utah.

“Utah specialist physicians have experienced higher liability insurance rate increases than their counterparts in most other states,” according to an ACERP document.

Herald reporter Kate McNeil contributed to this report.

HB 338 Emergency Room Tort Reform, Rep. Bradley Last, R-St. George. This bill requires a clear and convincing standard of proof for litigation involving emergency care rendered in an emergency room.

SB 115, Emergency Medicine Tort Reform, Sen. Sheldon L. Killpack, R-Syracuse. This bill would establish a standard of proof of clear and convincing evidence for malpractice actions based on emergency room care received in an emergency room.
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