In Florida, mistakes in a hospital emergency room are the third most-frequent reason the injured patient files a medical malpractice lawsuit, according to the Office of Insurance Regulation, following injuries in a hospital and physicians’ offices.
Now a Florida senator has come up with a creative way to limit the liability of those who work in hospital emergency rooms.
Last week, the Senate Health Regulation Committee approved a bill, on 5-2 vote, that would offer “sovereign immunity” to Florida's 205 hospital emergency rooms. Sovereign immunity usually protects the government from liability lawsuits
The bill, introduced by Sen. John Thrasher, an influential Republicans, would limit recovery to $200,000 per incident for nurses, doctors, emergency workers, paramedics and anyone working in an ER. The degree of injury suffered would not be a factor.
Thrasher is also the chair of the Florida Republican Party and who gained his Senate seat in 2009 despite ads by trial lawyers depicting him as being a friend of the business community. Thrasher fired back with ads showing “trial attorneys” sitting around and laughing chomping on cigars in a smoke-filled room.
Hospital groups like the proposal and the Florida Medical Association and Florida Hospital Association have offered their backing. Thrasher was general counsel to the Florida Medical Association.
If approved the state government would assume liability for any jury award in excess of the $200,000 cap. An injured plaintiff, or their survivors, would have to file a “claims bill’ in the Legislature to get the money, reports the Sun-Sentinel, but those can take years to pass.
Thrasher reasons that hospitals will be able to retain high-risk specialties, such as neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, if protections are offered in an ER setting.
Not everyone is onboard including Republican Sen. Durrell Peaden, a medical doctor who Health News Florida reports is a top lawmakers on health issues.
He says “You’ve got to be fair to everybody on that issue,” referring to the fact that mistakes are made in the ER every day.
Florida Already Protects ER Docs
In 2003, the legislature passed a law that included protection from liability for those working in an emergency room. An injured patient is limited to $150,000 or $300,000 for non-economic damages, also known as pain and suffering, even in the case of gross negligence. Public hospitals already have immunity protections.
Sovereign immunity proposals extending to emergency rooms in all hospitals have never passed in the Florida legislature, even though they’ve been proposed for the past three years.
If enacted, the Thrasher proposal would go much further for the first time in protecting not just the doctors and hospitals, but also the paramedics and nurses. Senator Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat voted against the bill calling its reach to non-physicians “just too broad.”
Florida Justice Association lobbyist, Debra Henley, says the bill would make the state liable to defend doctors, including all costs associated with going to trial.
“When accountability (for doctors) is removed, care gets worse, not better. The scope of this bill is massive,” she says. #