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Local Orthopedists Suggest Remedies For Malpractice Crisis

Changes In Legislation Could Reduce Number Of Frivolous Lawsuits


April 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The Puerto Rican Society of Orthopedists & Traumatologists is launching a campaign to raise awareness about the inadequacy of the local laws to stem the tide of medical malpractice lawsuits and the accompanying increase in malpractice insurance costs. The organization is planning to take its recommendations to the Puerto Rico Legislature in hopes of amending the laws pertaining to malpractice.

Rolando Colon, the society’s president, and board member Rafael Negron say their suggested amendments would reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits, which they say represent approximately 60% of all malpractice lawsuits. In turn, this would attract those many physicians who have shied away from performing complex procedures in disciplines such as surgery and emergency medicine for fear of being sued.

"Although the government has implemented new laws to improve the malpractice situation, they only address part of the problem and don’t tackle it as a whole. The changes we propose will do just that," said Negron.

According to the two physicians, one of the new laws has judges refer malpractice cases to a panel of medical experts who study each lawsuit to determine whether it has merit. The panel returns its findings and recommendations to the judges, who decide whether to consider them in the cases.

Another solution, proposed by the Insurance Commissioner’s Office, offers tax incentives to entice U.S. mainland and foreign surplus-line insurance companies to subscribe malpractice insurance policies in Puerto Rico (CB Dec. 12, 2002). Surplus lines are those that no company in an authorized market is willing to write, according to information provided by the Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

Colon and Negron believe these two measures aren’t enough and propose to go further. For instance, they say the experts on the panel evaluating malpractice claims should be trained in the same medical specialty as the physician being sued. "This would reduce the time and cost it takes to solve a case and would also reduce errors," said Negron.

They also propose extending immunity to physicians who offer their services pro bono to nonprofit organizations or in emergency situations as well as to those who work on cases referred to them by a government institution such as the State Insurance Fund. They recommend referring all lawsuits that are settled to the Medical Examiner Tribunal so it can identify those physicians who have been sued more than once.

Other suggestions include limiting how much money can be claimed for emotional distress and reducing the time a person has to sue a physician in cases involving a minor. "It has been shown that lawsuits have declined in states where a limit is placed on the amount of an award," said Colon. Not having a limit, he and Negron said, prompts more lawsuits. Furthermore, they claim that allowing a lawsuit to be filed up until the 22nd birthday of a child who has allegedly been the victim of malpractice has caused many obstetricians and pediatricians to leave the practice.

Colon and Negron said that by adopting these recommendations, the local government can help reduce the number of frivolous malpractice lawsuits and control the cost of malpractice insurance, which has increased more than 50% since 2000.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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