Victims of medical malpractice in New Jersey tend to be very successful in their lawsuits. The number of successful lawsuits is high enough to rank New Jersey sixth in the United States. Given this high rate of successful malpractice claims, insurance premiums are very high for doctors. In an attempt to curb medical malpractice lawsuits lawmakers have proposed a measure, A-1831, to provide greater protections for physicians.
Supports of the bill believe that given that the number of patients is increasing and that team-based medical care is on the rise, there is a need to curb additional medical malpractice suits. However, opponents to the bill, including attorneys who represent victims, are concerned that the accountability of doctors could be diluted.
The protections that the bill will offer doctors include:
- A requirement that plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits provide the names of every defendant in the lawsuit at least 120 days prior to the start of the trail,
- Granting doctors who volunteer and are paid to respond to emergencies in hospitals immunity from civil damages, and
- A prohibition on medical malpractice insurance companies from raising a doctors’ rates when they have only been named in a medical malpractice lawsuit, rather than waiting to see if found guilty.
The first requirement, that all defendants be named 120 days prior to trial, stems from the concern that doctors can be named in a lawsuit right up to the starting date of the trial, potentially giving them no notice of the lawsuit. This comes from the practice of using “fictitious” names for the defendants because the plaintiffs may not know the actual names of the doctors or other healthcare provides who were involved in the alleged malpractice.
The Medical Society of New Jersey supports requiring that doctors be given more notice. It would be fairer for doctors if they had more time to respond in medical malpractice cases and giving doctors could speed up the legal processes. Opponents believe that plaintiffs should have all the time they need to identify those who committed the malpractice. It is also possible that providers could withhold the information needed to identify the doctors until the 120 day period had gone by.
The second provision is supported by the Medical Society of New Jersey because it would give doctors an incentive to respond to emergency situation in or out of hospitals. However objections have been made that shielding individuals or hospitals from accountability and responsibility would allow them to avoid accountability both legally and morally to their patients. Supporters of the third provision believe that doctors should not be punished by an increase in insurance premiums when they may ultimately be exonerated in the lawsuit.
Supports of this bill believe that given the possible increase in medical malpractice claims as the Affordable Care Act is implemented, doctors should have greater protections against claims. However others believe that the legislature should put more focus on preventing medical errors.
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