Citizen Alert: Special Interests Trying to Take Away Our Right to Trial By Jury in Medical Malpractice Cases

One thing that many large corporations and insurance companies can’t stand is that ordinary citizens in Georgia and across the United States have the right to trial by jury in civil cases.  This sacred right runs against the mindset of those who believe that only large companies and the wealthy should get to make the rules.  Whether it’s environmental contamination, medical negligence, unsafe trucks on the road or defective products, many companies would rather blame their victims for the harm they cause instead of acting more safely.   Juries scare these companies because juries can make them act more safely and hold them responsible when they don’t.

These special interests are always on the prowl, looking for ways to take away our rights, often by passing laws that close the courthouse doors to us.  But the problem is that these companies can’t just come out openly and say “we want to enact laws that take away your right to trial by jury and that deny you the right to hold us accountable when we harm you, harm your families, harm your neighbors or damage your property.”  They know everyone would reject such obvious attempts at one-sided legislation.

Instead, these corporations and their allies in the PR business are much slicker than that – they come up with really nice-sounding names for their proposed laws so we won’t seek the rotten core of what lurks beneath the surface.  One such recent attempt in Georgia is by an outfit calling itself the “Patients for Fair Compensation” and they are trying to get the Georgia legislature to adopt a law – called the Patient Injury Act – that takes away our right to trial by jury in cases where Georgia citizens are injured by the actions of corporate hospitals and healthcare providers.  As Georgia Watch reports, this group is actually led by healthcare industry executives who are seeking to shut the courthouse doors for the oldest of reasons – they don’t want to be responsible to us for the terrible harms that can be caused by medical negligence.

Ordinary citizens who cause a wreck on the road or otherwise harm someone can be held accountable by a fair jury of 12 citizens in Georgia.  Why should these healthcare corporations and other monied special interests get special privileges that the rest of us don’t have?  There is no reasonable excuse for this type of law that takes away our Constitutional rights, and we should let our Georgia lawmakers know we won’t accept it.  Please take a minute to call your Georgia state legislator and let them know that you don’t approve of Senate Bill 141.  And if they vote for it, let’s hold them responsible at the ballot box.

Patient Safety in Hospitals

 As lawyers for people who have been injured through the negligence of others, we  hear very often  from people who got infections during a stay at a hospital.  These infections can be very dangerous, especially for the very young, the very old, and  people with immunity problems.  


Find Out About Your Hospital’s Infection Control 

Consumer Reports has reported on new rules to make it easier for patients to identify which hospitals are better at preventing infections.  Their article is at their health and safety blog. Consumer Reports had earlier reported on an investigation that revealed that nearly all these infections are preventable, including central IV line infections, which account for about 30% of the 99,000 annual deaths from hospital-acquired infections.  Under the new rules, hospitals will have to report their infection rates.  Here’s a link to the site, Hospital Compare, that has the reports on infections.   The report shows one hospital in Georgia that reported no central line infections. It would be great if all the hospitals in Macon and Middle Georgia could achieve this same result. 

Patients Need to Know 

Most of these infections, if not all of them, can be prevented with the use of a simple checklist, called the Pronovost checklist, found here.  This checklist focuses on simple measures, like hand-washing and use of disinfectants, to prevent infections.  I would urge everyone to make sure that their caregivers are following these simple steps so they can protect themselves and their loved ones from these infections in hospitals.   Please watch the video above for information on preventing infections.  

Lawsuits or Medical Errors: What’s The Real Problem

Medical Malpractice Payments Fall       Many special interests want to close the courthouse doors to Georgia citizens who suffer terrible injuries or death because of the negligence of healthcare personnel.  The special interests complain about "frivolous lawsuits" and the alleged "crisis" of medical malpractice lawsuits.  When you peek behind the surface, however, the truth is that we are suffering from a problem with people being killed or injured by medical errors rather than a problem with lawsuits.  For example, as this article by Chelsey Ledue shows, the number of payments related to malpractice claims fell in 2009, and the amount paid is at its lowest level since 1992.

The Real Problem:  Failure to Protect Patients    In 1999, the Institute of Medicine found that 44,000-98,000 people die every year due to preventable medical errors!  In 2004, the problem was worse, and according to the report by Health Grades, medical errors would be ranked as the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.   And in 2009, it is estimated by the Hearst Newspapers that approximately 200,000 people would die due to medical errors and hospital infections!  These are frightening statistics that don’t  get the attention they deserve.  

    Please take a moment to review the report by Public Citizen that shows the real problem is too many Americans die needlessly from medical errors.  Thus, we should focus on keeping patients safe and holding hospitals and medical personnel accountable when they needlessly harm patients.  The right to trial by jury is essential to hold wrongdoers accountable.  We should not allow special interests groups to take away this right.   

Medical Malpractice Caps in Georgia: Taking Away the Power of Georgia’s Juries

Georgia’s Legislature and Limits on Juries’ Power

     In 2005, the Georgia legislature placed "caps" on the amount of non-economic damages that an injured Georgia citizen could obtain from juries in medical malpractice cases.  In some cases, that limit was as low as $350,000.  This law had the effect of taking power away from jurors in Georgia and giving the power to the special interests that like nothing less than ordinary citizens getting a fair day in court at the hands of 12 jurors.  

Mrs. Nestlehutt’s Injuries and Her Challenge of the Caps

   Mrs. Betty Nestlehutt, age 71, worked in a real estate business with her husband, and she sought some help from a plastic surgeon, who recommended a facelift and a laser resurfacing.  These procedures being performed together posed the risk of imparing the blood supply to the face.  Nonetheless, the procedures were performed and Mrs. Nestlehutt suffered impaired blood supply to her face and was left with large gaping wounds on her face.  The video below shows the damages to Mrs. Nestlehutt.

   The video below shows these damages and illustrates why the legislature’s arbitrary "one-size-fits-all" approach is manifestly unfair to people like Mrs. Nestlehutt.


WE THE PEOPLE from Georgia Justice on Vimeo.

House of Representatives passes health care bill

In November, we took a step in the right direction. The House of Representatives passed the health care bill, "The Affordable Health Care for America Act" or  HR 3962.  This is the most significant piece of health care legislation to pass the House in the last 40 years, according to CNN’s coverage.

In our work representing persons who have suffered serious injuries as a result of another party’s negligence or carelessness, one of the problems we often encounter is that the injured person lacks insurance coverage to pay their medical bills.  This is especially hard on families who have lost the person who provided the main source of income due to their injuries.

Insurance companies sometimes refuse to pay promptly for injuries arising from medical malpractice, trucking wrecks, car wrecks or other incidents.  This delay causes injured persons to have to live on little or no income while their medical bills continue to accumulate.  This can make it difficult for injured people to obtain full compensation for the injuries because they may be forced to accept lower settlement amounts simply due to their need for money to pay their mounting medical bills. 

Hopefully some version of the health care bill will become law so injuried folks avoid this problem.