Op-ed: Patients deserve protection from medical mistakes by Rebecca J. Britton

By Rebecca J. Britton
Fayetteville

Preventable medical mistakes kill 4,000 patients and permanently injure 5,700 patients every year in North Carolina. That's not according to the "trial lawyers" — that's from the New England Journal of Medicine, the most prestigious medical publication in the country. Medical malpractice kills more people every year in North Carolina than the combined death toll from car wrecks, breast cancer and murder.

So what is our legislature, with its new majority, doing right now to solve this health care crisis that threatens the lives and health of people in North Carolina?

In response to 9,700 North Carolinians being severely harmed by preventable medical mistakes every year, Senate Bill 33 sets a one-size-fits-all cap on damages for disfigurement, mutilation, loss of a limb, pain, suffering and death resulting from medical malpractice. Yes, no matter how badly you or a loved one are disfigured, no matter how much pain you or a loved one are in and how much you or that loved one suffer, and no matter how many years or decades that suffering will go on, those damages are capped at $500,000. One size fits all, no matter what the facts of the individual case are.

So, let's make it cheaper for the few bad-apple health care providers who injure their patients. Let's take the losses these patients suffer and put them on the backs of taxpayers. Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? That's what Senate Bill 33 does.

Doing more damage

There is more: Senate Bill 33 also gives emergency room negligence a free pass. Yes, Senate Bill 33 gives immunity to hospital ERs and doctors — if they are negligent and harm, maim or kill you or a loved one, there is nothing you can do about it. Can you imagine?

Think about when you take your child or your elderly parent to the ER. If the people who treat them are negligent and harm them, do you want to give them a free pass? Do you think it is fair that the people who treat them are free to violate their own professional standards with no consequence? Do you think this will improve patient safety?

Despite the fact that the filing of malpractice lawsuits in North Carolina has steadily and sharply decreased over the last 10 years, despite the fact that less than 5 percent of patients harmed by malpractice actually file suit, and despite the fact that health care providers already have more protection from lawsuits than any other individual or profession in this state, Senate Bill 33 is speeding toward enactment as legislators give a green light to malpractice.

We are all patients. We are all entitled to good and appropriate medical care and most of us get that in this community. But if we do not get appropriate care and we are harmed by it, that care provider should not get a free pass. That is why they have insurance, just like we do.

Speaking of insurance, guess who the big supporters of this bill are? You've got it — insurance companies. If you do not speak up to your local legislators, you or anyone in your family could soon be one of the casualties of Senate Bill 33.

Rebecca J. Britton is a lawyer at Britton Law, P.A., in Fayetteville and past president of North Carolina Advocates for Justice.