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Federal Proposal Would Limit Injured Patients’ Rights

Usually medical malpractice laws are state-level laws. When a person files a personal injury or wrongful death case it is usually filed in state court. Despite the state-based nature of malpractice law, occasionally federal laws impact medical malpractice plaintiff’s rights. One proposed law that would do just that is currently being considered by federal lawmakers.

House Bill Would Provide Shield for Negligent Doctors Against Malpractice Suits

The New York Times reports that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill, with bipartisan support, that would limit the rights of medical malpractice patients. Specifically, the law would limit injured patients ability to use certain government information about the quality of care doctors are expected to provide in such lawsuits. The bill, were it to become law, would require the government to measure the quality of care doctors are providing and rate their performance on a scale of 0 to 100. This would be great.

However, the law also says that the quality-of-care standards used in federal health programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, could not be used in malpractice suits. This language is pretty much exactly what insurance lobbyists asked Congress for. What this means is that while the government is making great strides in rating the actual quality of care being provided by medical professionals and in setting standards for care, it is also robbing injured patients of the ability to use those standards to show that the doctors who hurt them are not living up to the expected standard. It is sort of like if a school were to lay out criteria explaining what sort of work a student had to do in order to earn certain grades, but then the school prevented employers from considering those standards in deciding whether they should hire a student.

Why Would Allowing the Use of These Standards Matter?

In any negligence case a plaintiff must show that the defendant owed him or her some duty, and that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the plaintiff some harm that resulted in damages. Medical malpractice cases are no different. In medical malpractice cases the doctor’s duty to the patient is to provide treatment that is proper given the “standard of care.”

The standard of care is defined by the generally accepted standards and practices that other medical professionals would use if they were treating the patient. Proving the standard of care can be a complicated process, especially in areas of medicine where the standard of care is quickly evolving and in areas that are highly specialized. Allowing plaintiffs to use the federal government’s standards as evidence of the standard of care in a given area of medicine would have made this part of the process easier for injured patients and their families. However, if the House bill becomes law, this will not be allowed. Instead these patients will have to continue to prove the standard of care over and over again in each case.

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