Florida Justice Association (FJA) reports that Floridians’ safety at increased risk in hospital emergency rooms if proposed legislation becomes law.
Nearly six million people in Florida were treated in emergency rooms last year. Nationally, more than 225,000 people die every year as a result of medical malpractice, with half of those deaths occurring due to emergency room errors. When negligence by emergency room health care providers cause injury, illness or death, injured persons or their families need resources, information and financial support that would be severely limited under a misguided proposal to extend sovereign immunity caps to emergency room medical providers.
A bill making its way through the Florida Legislature would extend sovereign immunity to emergency room physicians, nurses, paramedics and other personnel, essentially creating a state-run insurance company.
The proposals would cap economic damages at $100,000 and rob patients of the ability to hold doctors accountable for negligence that causes them harm, shifts medical costs to taxpayers, and forces taxpayers to pick up the cost of defending ER personnel for their mistakes.
These bills would bring drastic and potentially permanent harm to Florida’s health care system. Specifically, the bills undermine existing financial incentives for health care providers to ensure patient safety and high quality care. The legislation would shift the high costs of medical malpractice from private medical providers to state government and ultimately to taxpayers because it treats not only private doctors, but corporate-giant-owned hospitals, as state employees. And these measures also would drastically curtail the ability of medical malpractice victims to recover economic damages needed to pay past and future medical bills and lost wages.
When a victim of medical malpractice suffers a disabling injury, he or she may be facing not only a lifetime of pain, medical care and need for assistance, but also a crushing long-term financial burden. Relieving the health care provider who caused that injury of the financial burden does not magically make it go away. The proposed legislation assumes that we, Florida’s taxpayers, are able to pick up the tab run up by a negligent health care provider after the victim’s family has reached a state of financial ruin.
By definition, the proposed legislation runs directly afoul of the very concept of sovereign immunity because it extends the state’s governmental immunity to private corporations and privately employed health care professionals. Instead of holding these entities and individuals accountable for their own negligent acts, the bills would both shift the cost of these medical errors to unsuspecting taxpayers and at the same time remove critical incentives to make hospital emergency rooms safer for patients. Given the already significant restrictions on medical malpractice litigation that were passed in 2003, the demonstrated financial strength of medical malpractice insurers, and the improved availability and steady decline in cost of medical malpractice insurance, there is no justification for placing further restrictions on the rights of injured patients.
The Florida Justice Association (FJA) is an organization dedicated to strengthening and upholding Florida’s civil justice system and protecting the rights of Florida’s citizens and consumers.