The Jury’s Role in Preventing Medical Malpractice in Florida
Each year, tens of millions of Americas are admitted to hospitals, undergo surgery, or receive some form of medical care. “Big medicine” is a multitrillion-dollar industry. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), “U.S. health care spending grew 4.6 percent in 2019, reaching $3.8 trillion.” That equals more than 17% of America’s Gross Domestic Product, according to CMS. The point: Americans greatly rely on our healthcare system. It affects all of us at some point in our lives and is deserving of meaningful oversight and transparency in order to further patient safety. Yet, while there is extensive regulation of the drugs, machines, and medical devices used in modern medicine, doctors themselves often escape scrutiny.
According to a year-long investigative report by CBS News, state medical boards often fail to protect patients against dangerous doctors. The full story can be viewed by clicking here. According to Jim Axelrod, CBS’s Chief Investigative Correspondent, many dangerous doctors never face serious disciple by state medical boards or lose their medical licenses for harming patients. This is true even for “repeat offenders.” CBS identified an orthopedic surgeon who allegedly injured two separate patients during spine surgery, leaving one with nerve damage and the other with partial paralysis. By the time CBS aired its story, that surgeon had been the subject of five (5) different medical malpractice lawsuits, lost his surgical privileges at two hospitals for “falling below the standard of care,” and was sanctioned three times after relocating to Florida – where he continues to practice medicine. Documents from the Florida Department of Health state that he was sanctioned on one occasion for operating on the “wrong side.” As scary as this story may be, there are others like it.
CBS stated that it spoke with over 100 medical malpractice lawyers from all 50 states. They overwhelmingly confirmed that state medical boards protect doctors, not patients. That leaves our civil justice system, mainly juries, to speak on behalf of patients. Through our civil justice system, juries can help establish appropriate standards of medical care, root out dangerous doctors, and advance patient safety.
“Part II of CBS News’ year-long investigation has found that the system of state medical boards responsible for disciplining doctors who repeatedly injure their patients often fails to discipline those doctors, leaving the public in the dark.” You can view the Part II of the CBS story by clicking here. As explained in Part II, it is frequently difficult for prospective patients to learn whether their doctor was previously sanctioned, sued in medical malpractice cases, paid settlements, or suffered any professional discipline by hospitals or employers. According to CBS, hospitals have access to important databanks containing secret information about the safety records of practicing medical doctors. Those databanks are not available to the public. Furthermore, the medical doctors sitting on medical boards charged with “policing” other doctors, often have a conflict of interest, either because they are “political appointees” or because they too practice within the medical community.
Clearly, the public cannot trust the medical community to rid itself of dangerous doctors. The recent CBS investigative report highlights the critical role juries have in ensuring patient safety and should act as a reminder of the important position they occupy in our society. Given the impotency of state medical boards and lack of meaningful government oversight, it is up to juries hearing medical malpractice cases to hold negligent medical providers accountable, uncover dangerous practices within our healthcare system, and advance patient safety.
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