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Laura’s Law Would Make Hospitals Responsible for their Negligence

Posted by Benjamin R. Zimmermann

Benjamin R. Zimmermann
Meet Benjamin

Ben litigates personal injury cases, with an emphasis in the areas of defective products, medical malpractice, construction site accidents, and premises liability. Ben’s case wins have been upheld all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Meet Benjamin

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In September 2016, 34-year-old Laura Levis collapsed just outside the locked doors of the Somerville Hospital emergency room. By the time she was found, she was in cardiac arrest, and she passed away a few days later.

Through a series in the Boston Globe, Laura’s husband, Peter DeMarco, chronicled this tragedy and its causes. DeMarco has been working tirelessly since then to prevent such needless deaths from occurring.

In February this year, DeMarco joined with Somerville State Senator Patricia Jehlen and Representative Christine Barber to propose two bills intended to address such medical disasters. The first bill would allow the Department of Public Health to set and enforce standards for safe patient access to emergency rooms – including monitored entrances, clear signage, and bright lighting. The second bill would remove the liability cap for medical malpractice cases against most hospitals in the state.

Most hospitals face little liability for negligence in Massachusetts

Under current Massachusetts law (MGL Chapter 231, Section 85K), juries cannot award more than $100,000 for medical malpractice cases against nonprofit healthcare providers – including hospitals such as Somerville Hospital.

What this means is that, even if a hospital’s negligence causes serious injury or death, the most that the hospital’s insurance will pay to the victim or his/her family is $100,000.

Because of this liability cap, DeMarco was advised that it wouldn’t be worth pursuing legal action against the hospital, despite the apparent negligence which had caused his wife’s death. Massachusetts is one of few states to have this liability cap.   

Do medical negligence damage limits help patients?

Medical malpractice liability caps are said to limit the cost of liability insurance to doctors and hospitals. However, studies of these limits have not shown a benefit to patients.

A recent study published in Northwestern Law & Economic Research found “broad increase in adverse patient safety events following damage cap adoption.” In plain English, after damage caps were put into law, medical errors that hurt patients increased. The researchers found that preventable errors and “adverse events” in hospitals increased by 15% after “reform”.

A meta-study in 2014 by the Center for Justice  & Democracy at New York Law School also found that medical liability caps lead to more medical errors, higher costs and no improvement in patient care.

Using public data from Capson Physicians Insurance, we calculate the average cost of liability insurance for US doctors is $9,448. In states with liability limits, the mean cost is $10,336 – nearly $1,000 higher than the national average. If damage caps are meant to limit insurance costs, the data indicates that it doesn’t work.

Patients are paying the price

Evidence shows that in effect, these caps absolve hospitals from their own negligence and hurt patients.

DeMarco is one of countless victims left without a meaningful remedy under the current structure of Massachusetts’ legal system, but he is determined to work so that in the future hospitals will be accountable to the people and communities that they serve. In proposing these bills before the State House, DeMarco stated, “My justice will come in having Laura’s death have meaning.”

If you or your loved one has been harmed by medical negligence, you need an experienced attorney to help you navigate through the complexities of the legal system. SUGARMAN can help. Please fill out a Contact Form, call us at (617) 542-1000, or email info@sugarman.com for a consultation.