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Medical Malpractice Debate in New York: Limit Injured Parties’ Ability to Recover or Fix the System?

As of late there has been a colossal debate over medical malpractice law. Gov. Andrew M. Cumo and his Medicaid Redesign Team came up with Proposal Number 131 to impose a cap of $250,000 on noneconomic damages for victims of medical malpractice and create an indemnity fund for neurologically damaged infants, among other things. But are injured people the ones who should be penalized?

What about fixing the medical system so the possibility of injury from malpractice is decreased in the first place? Seemingly, this would make all sides better off. One Columbia-Presbyterian study by three medical doctors was done with the goal of finding a comprehensive obstetric patient safety program to reduce compensation payments and sentinel adverse events. Data was gathered from 2003 through 2009 and the results are simply astounding. “Average yearly compensation payments decreased from $27,591,610 between 2003-2006 to $2,550,135 between 2007-2009, sentinel events decreased from 5 in 2000 to none in 2008 and 2009. Instituting a comprehensive obstetric patient safety program decreased compensation payments and sentinel events resulting in immediate and significant savings.” Yes, that is about $25 million. Here is the report:

Columbia-Presbyterian Patient Safety Study

The issues that this study covers are very real. Bronx-Lebanon Obstetricians in the South Bronx recently received a warning from their insurance company that their practice may be cut off from insurance coverage, due to their subpar “method of practice” and “practice environment”.

At least one aide/spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agrees that changing the medical system is the way to go. Mr. Blair Horner stated, “Our view is, you reduce the injuries, you reduce the lawsuits”. But overall Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team’s interests lie with protecting their industry, not representing victims of their malpractice. They are representatives of various prominent groups in the healthcare industry, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare workers. A cap on injured party recovery will destroy any incentive of those who commit medical malpractice to better their services to avoid injuries to patients and effectuate savings because it would insulate them from real consequences to their actions. Patients will be left with increasingly poor health services and when they become seriously injured, no recourse for appropriate recovery. The medical providers who are furthering Proposal 131 are the only ones who stand to benefit from it. How about Medicaid abuse and fraud? Though the budget may need work, this is simply the wrong way to fix it.

Contact your State legislators and other State policymakers on the legislation in Albany. The medical malpractice proposal will be part of the legislation to enact the State’s budget by April 1, 2011.

If you are an attorney, join the attorneys of Leav & Steinberg, LLP this Monday, March 7, 2011 at the NYSTLA Headquarters (132 Nassau Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10038) for the meeting to inform the membership about the legislative proposals to cap non-economic damages at $250,000 and create a neurologically impaired infant fund.

Resources:

The New York Times, Bronx-Lebanon Obstetricians Face Loss of Insurance, Anemona Hartocollis, 02.28.2011.

The New York Times, A Cuomo Aide Criticizes a Former Cuomo Aide, Nicholas Confessore, 03.01.2011.