medical mistakes

You Should Know: New Laws Weaken Protection Against Medical Malpractice

Restricting Your Rights Will Not Fix Medical Malpractice, Nursing Home Negligence

Jean Simmons kept moving her mother Betty from one nursing home to another after discovering mistreatment and neglect by her mother’s caregivers. When her mother died recently at a nursing home in East Texas, Ms. Simmons wanted justice for the woman who raised her while maybe preventing someone else’s parent from spending the waning years of life in misery.

But Texas – like more than 30 other states – has a cap on damages for medical malpractice and nursing home abuse cases, which effectively prevents Ms. Simmons from holding the nursing home company accountable. “It is a lose-lose, because your loved one is suffering and you don’t even want validation or money for it,” Simmons said. “You just want good care. And you still can’t get that.”  

Medical Errors Pegged as Third Leading Cause of Death

Our most vulnerable citizens are often the victims of medical and nursing home negligence.

Our most vulnerable citizens are often the victims of medical and nursing home negligence.

You’ve probably heard or read about nursing home abuse cases like that of Ms. Simmons, or stories about terrible mistakes at hospitals and clinics, or reports about medical devices that fail and cause serious injury or death.

So why in the world would anyone propose a new bill in Washington, D.C., that would make it nearly impossible for you to pursue lawsuits and hold insurance companies and big corporations accountable for these mistakes? But that’s exactly what this new legislation would do, capping damages on medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits to $250,000. Other restrictions would protect for-profit nursing homes, insurance providers and even caregivers who intentionally abuse a patient.

Supporters of these measures argue that they are necessary to deter greedy patients from exploiting doctors and health care facilities for personal gain. Many say that caps will keep health care costs down by reducing the amount of money paid out for medical malpractice lawsuits and insurance. But the experts tell a very different story.

  • Nearly half a million people die from preventable medical errors each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer. In addition, 10 to 20 times more people are seriously injured. Caps do nothing to make health care safer and instead protect the financial interests of big corporations and insurance companies rather than save you money.
  • Lawyers are not filling the courts with frivolous medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits. Medical malpractice lawsuits are rare and make up only 0.2 to 2 percent of all civil cases each year, and that number continues to decrease.
  • Instead of lowering health care costs, research shows that costs have actually increased by about 4 to 5 percent in states with damage caps.

And something else you should know about these laws: They allow the federal government to override state laws that protect consumers and patients in favor of laws that protect corporate health care at the expense of patient safety.  

Help Us Oppose Laws that Punish Those Who Have Already Suffered

The founders of this country knew how important it was to arm the average citizen with the right to hold powerful special interests accountable in a court of law. Restricting that right in cases of negligent medical and nursing home care will only punish those who have already suffered enough while actually reducing the incentive for big corporations and insurance companies to address the epidemic of preventable medical errors.

Later this month, the House of Representatives will take the first step in restricting this right for all Americans by voting on House Resolution 1215. If passed, the bill will then move on to the Senate and eventually the President's desk. We urge you to take a closer look at this legislation, and if you feel the same way as we do, contact your members of Congress and make your voice heard on this important issue.

This article appeared in our March 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

Focus Should Be On Health Care Safety

We understand that it is difficult for anyone to wrap their head around the issue of errors and health care. Americans have a justifiably high opinion of doctors, nurses and other care providers. The vast majority are dedicated professionals that do tremendous good for society and save many lives.

But to err is human, and it has become clear that the big business of health and nursing home care results in too many preventable injuries. According to a recent study by doctors at Johns Hopkins, death due to medical error ranks 3rd (250,00 per year) behind heart disease and cancer. That is an alarming statistic. So read our March newsletter not as an indictment of the fine people who work in health care today, but rather a defense of every American’s right to justice and accountability when preventable mistakes occur. Patients and families who are harmed by preventable medical errors should not be denied their right to seek legal redress for what has happened to them. 

Guy W. Crabtree is a partner with Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC, in Durham, NC.

You Should Know: People Who Make a Difference

People Who Make a Difference

The 2015 Justice Served Awards honor each of these nominees for their commitment to a safer, more just America. Tell us which story moves you the most (see our nominating criteria below), and we’ll enter you into a drawing for a free subscription to Consumer Reports.


Doctor Calls for Drug Testing of Health Care Workers

Dr. Stephen Loyd helps other doctors overcome addiction.

Dr. Stephen Loyd helps other doctors overcome addiction.

Dr. Stephen Loyd knows a thing or two about drug addiction among physicians and other health care workers. The prominent Tennessee doctor of internal medicine started taking narcotic painkillers to relieve stress during his residency. By 2004, he was knocking back nearly 100 pain pills a day. “I worked impaired every day. Looking back, I shudder to think what could have happened,” he says. Turns out Loyd is not alone. A recent investigation by USA Today found that more than 100,000 health care workers abuse prescription drugs and alcohol, many while on the job.

Loyd broke out of his addiction and today is leading a national effort as an Advocate for Action with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to prevent prescription drug abuse among other doctors and health care workers, including implementation of mandatory drug testing. “We have failed at policing ourselves,” said Loyd in this interview.

Spinal Cord Injury Launches “Amy’s Army”

When she took up swimming at the age of 12, Amy Van Dyken’s asthma made it difficult for her to swim the length of the pool. Undaunted by those who said she would never swim competitively, she went to Atlanta in 1996 and became the first American woman to win four gold medals in one Olympics. Four years later, she added two more gold medals at the 2000 Olympics. After retiring from the pool, Van Dyken and her husband, Tom Rouen, a former punter in the NFL, built successful careers in sports and real estate.

Inspirational Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen after spinal cord injury.

Inspirational Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen after spinal cord injury.

Fast forward to June 2014 when Van Dyken-Rouen was thrown from the ATV she was riding near her vacation home in Show Low, Arizona. The crash dislocated her T11 vertebra in the middle of her back, paralyzing her from the waist down. But once again Van Dyken-Rouen would overcome the doubters in her life and mount an amazing recovery with the support of family, friends and fans who call themselves Amy’s Army. Just six months later, Van Dyken-Rouen launched the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and now uses her star power and Olympic determination to help raise money and awareness for people with spinal cord injuries who cannot afford badly needed medical equipment.

Researcher Uncovers Shocking Statistics on Medical Mistakes

Our next nominee quietly wielded the power of the pen to send shock waves rumbling through the medical establishment. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) published the report To Err is Human in 1999, estimating that up to 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of preventable harm in hospitals. As shocking as the IOM data were, Dr. John T. James, using recently published data and a more complete definition of preventable harm to include errors of omission and hospital-acquired infections, estimated in a recent study that 210,000 to 400,000 patients die from medical errors annually. That puts medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.

Sadly, the tragedy of medical mistakes would also visit Dr. James. In the late summer of 2002, James’ son John Alexander James, 19, “died as a result of uninformed, careless and unethical care by cardiologists at a hospital in central Texas,” according to his father. As the founder of Patient Safety America, James is dedicated to providing information to those who are concerned about the quality of health care in America.

Father Warns Others About Kids and Hot Cars

Reggie McKinnon always wondered how a “good parent” could forget their child in a hot car. But then the unthinkable happened. On the way to daycare, McKinnon’s 17-month-old daughter Payton Lynn slept so quietly that he forgot she was even in the back seat. There he found the lifeless body of his baby girl when he returned to his car after work, still in the car seat he strapped her into that morning.

Since that horrible day, McKinnon has dedicated himself to sharing his story with community groups, the news media or anyone else who will listen. He has also partnered with Safe Kids and several other organizations to promote a public service campaign called: Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock. “My promise to Payton was to try and educate people,” McKinnon says. “I want people to understand that it can, does and continues to happen to good parents.”

Justice Served Awards Nominating Criteria

The Justice Served Awards celebrate the stories of injured people and their families who decide to make a difference in protecting the health, safety and legal rights of others. Once a year, we ask our readers to read these remarkable stories and tell us which one touches them most and why. Winners are chosen based on their efforts to:

  • Uncover negligence or other irresponsible behavior by organizations that put their interests ahead of the public interest;
  • Prompt government action by shedding new light on defective products, services or other practices;
  • Trigger manufacturing and quality assurance practices that lead to safer products and services; and
  • Increase public awareness that helps prevent additional injuries and protects an individual’s right to civil justice in a court of law.

 This article appeared in our August 2015 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.