Archive for the ‘Legislation’ Category

UPDATE: AAP Compromise Statement on Female Genital Cutting – RETRACTED!

May 25, 2010

Please see UPDATE at end of article!

On April 26,2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a new policy statement seen by many as essentially advocating the practice in this country of female genital mutilation (FGM)[sometimes  this ‘tradition’ is referred to as female genital cutting (FGC) as well].  In pertinent part, the policy advocates for “federal and state laws [to] enable pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ‘ritual nick’,” such as pricking or minor incisions of girls’ clitorises.

Yes, I said this was issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. How, in the world, you ask, could such an august body promote such a misogynistic practice?

For those who may not be familiar with this barbaric (you fill-in the other adjectives – the list is simply too long) ‘ritual,’ a recent online article by PRNewswire sets the chilling background of this controversy.

FGM is a harmful traditional practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia and is carried out across Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and by immigrants of practicing communities living around the world, including in Europe and the U.S.  It is estimated that up to 140 million women and girls around the world are affected by FGM.

Putting aside my personal opinions regarding the overall chauvinistic cultures of – to name a few – Africa, Asia and the Middle East, what would motivate any culture to engage in such a ritualistic practice?

In an NPR interview of Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University, Dena Davis, on May 14, 2010, Professor Davis,  a consultant to the AAP and the lead author of the policy statement, the ‘rationale of this ‘tradition’ is explained.

RAEBURN: Do you have a sense I’m just I can’t help but interrupt. Do you have a sense of why in these cultures, there may be different reasons, but why this is done or what is supposed to be the benefit of it?

Ms. DAVIS: Right, it’s a wide array of things. On a positive side, it’s seen as a growing-up ritual, as a celebration of ethnic or national identity. It became politically important as a response to colonization, for example, but it’s also done to remove sexual pleasure from women so that they can be controlled, to guarantee women’s virginity so that they are marriageable and to protect the family’s honor.

So just how did this ‘celebration of ethnic or national identity’ work its way to our shores? How did it conceivably become a part of a policy statement by the AAP?

Professor Davis offers the following explanation:

Ms. DAVIS: Well, I want to start by reiterating what you already said. The statement ends with four recommendations, and none of those mention this compromise. The recommendations are that the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes all forms of female genital cutting that pose risks of physical or psychological harm, encourages its members to educate themselves about the practice, recommends that members actively seek to dissuade families from carrying out harmful forms of FGC and recommends compassionate education of the parents of patients.

Having said that, the controversial part, as you made mention, is a discussion toward the end of the possibility of pediatricians offering what would literally be a nick. And in the statement, we analogize it to ear piercing.

And the idea here was that we knew that some pediatricians in Seattle a number of years ago who had a good relationship with the Somali immigrant community around their hospital had been asked by mothers of girls for this kind of compromise. And they had gone down the road of – they’d had meetings with mothers and so on, and they were about to do that…

RAEBURN: So this was mothers from some of these cultures where this is practiced had suggested that…

Ms. DAVIS: Right, were Somali immigrant mothers.

RAEBURN: Okay, so it was their idea?

Ms. DAVIS: Well, I’m not sure whose idea it was, but they embraced it to the extent that they held off on doing something worse until the doctors could get set up to start offering this. But before that could happen, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder wrote to tell the hospital that it would be criminal under her new law that had recently passed in Congress.

The concern is that we know that in many cases, when pediatricians turn down parents, girls are taken back to Africa for the worst possible procedures done, you know, with no painkilling and no, you know, no infection control and extremely severe forms of these procedures where girls’ labia are scraped away, for example.

And there’s really that’s very difficult to stop…

The uproar from this AAP statement advocating a ‘compromise’ – ostensibly premised on the concept of the ‘lesser of two evils’ – comes from virtually every group in this nation.  One I quite frankly didn’t anticipate was posted by Jihad Watch: “[T]here are those four words of the Hippocratic oath that the American Academy of Pediatrics seems to have forgotten: First do no harm. And if it is supposed to be harmless, let the AAP doctors line up forthwith for their own “ritualized nick.” The comments to this posting by Jihad Watch, which refers to this practice as being “primarily enforced in Muslim countries, ” are also quite revealing. One person identified as ‘Ccoopen’ had this to say:

I’m not sure why this is listed under dhimmitude, considering that FGM is not Islamic. Sure, it is practiced by Muslims, but it is not a Muslim practice. It is a cultural practice which predates Islam by hundreds, if not thousands of years. In fact, the majority of practitioners in Africa are of the African Tribal religions, not Muslim. While it is a horrific practice, it doesn’t need to be tied to Islam since it has nothing to do with Islam, but with culture.

For those who have dedicated their life’s work to obtaining equality among the sexes, the AAP’s attempt at a ‘neutral’ statement of compromise has been vehemently rebuked:

“Encouraging pediatricians to perform FGM under the notion of ‘cultural sensitivity’ shows a shocking lack of understanding of a girl’s fundamental right to bodily integrity and equality,” says Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of the human rights organization Equality Now. “If foot-binding were still being carried out, would the AAP encourage pediatricians to execute a milder version of this practice?”(See “An End to Female Genital Cutting?”) See our source – Time online article.

In its online posting, Time, a partner of CNN, reports (as do many others) reports a legislative twist to the timing of the AAP’s policy statement:

On the same day the AAP published its new recommendation, the Girls Protection Act, which would make it illegal to take a minor outside the U.S. to seek female circumcision, was introduced in Congress. “I am sure the academy had only good intentions, but what their recommendation has done is only create confusion about whether FGM is acceptable in any form, and it is the wrong step forward on how best to protect young women and girls,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, New York Representative Joseph Crowley, speaking to the New York Times. Davis counters that such a law would be extremely difficult to enforce.

So where do you stand on the issue? Has the AAP done more harm than good? Is the ‘compromise simply dangerous folly or adoption of ‘the lesser evil’ for the safety and well-being of these children? You be the judge. Share with us and our community of readers your reaction.

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UPDATE: in response to my posting this blog on Twitter, one person using the Twitter name kvetchingguru brought to my attention a posting which is a ‘call to action.’ It is entitled “Urgent Alert: Call on the American Academy of Pediatrics to retract their endorsement of Type IV FGM.” A form letter is made available and the names of the Executive Director/CEO of AAP, the Chair of AAP and the President and CEO of the American Board of Medical Specialties are provided.

As I wrote earlier today, this ‘endorsement’ in any fashion – call it ritual snip or piercing – has created a groundswell of reaction.

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UPDATE: May 27, 2010

It appears that the uproar reported in this article has taken its toll.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has retracted its policy statement on female genital cutting after sparking controversy by apparently endorsing the illegal practice of “ritual nicks” to forestall more extensive mutilation.

“The AAP does not endorse the practice of offering a ‘clitoral nick,'” according to a new statement by the organization’s board of directors. “This minimal pinprick is forbidden under federal law, and the AAP does not recommend it to its members.”

The following from the AAP president about says it all:

In a new statement, AAP president Judith Palfrey, MD, of Harvard Medical School, clarified the academy’s position. “Our intention is not to endorse any form of female genital cutting or mutilation,” she said. “We retracted the policy because it is important that the world health community understands the AAP is totally opposed to all forms of female genital cutting, both here in the U.S. and anywhere in the world.”

The source for these quotes: medpagetoday

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Family Feud – Where’s Your Sense of Humor?

May 12, 2010

Everyone has, at one time or another, been offended by a relative’s hurtful comments. In the case of Sunda Croonquist’s family, however, the offended relatives were not content to let the offending comments pass without notice.  As reported by ABA Journal and other outlets, the family members actually sued her. Turns out that Ms. Croonquist is a comedienne, who takes advantage of her mixed ethnicity – she is half-black and half-Swedish and is married to a Jewish man – to poke fun at her family. Apparently, the family was not laughing, especially when Ms. Croonquist publicly joked that some of them were racist. Several of Ms. Croonquist’s in-laws, including her mother-in-law, filed suit in New Jersey alleging, among other counts, defamation and infliction of emotional distress.

Ms. Croonquist, however, got the last laugh. After Ms. Croonquist’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss (to add to the familial complexity, Ms. Croonquist was represented by her husband’s law firm), the trial court ruled that Ms. Croonquist’s comments, while perhaps hurtful, were protected by the First Amendment because they were merely her personal opinions. In order to prove a case of defamation, one has to prove that the speaker made a false statement. An opinion, being a subjective belief of the speaker, cannot be considered true or false, so it cannot support a claim for defamation. So Ms. Croonquist is free to continue insulting her relatives, and comedians around the country can continue making mother-in-law jokes.

No word yet on when the next family reunion is going to be held.

Parental Pre-Injury Releases: A Victory for the Children of Florida!

April 29, 2010

Two years ago, when I was practicing law in Florida, the Florida Supreme Court decided the case of Kirton v. Fields.  As a consumer justice attorney, I was proud to be able to stand behind such a law and give it my support.  In Kirton, the Court held that public policy concerns negated the enforcement of pre-injury releases executed by parents on behalf of their minor children regarding participation in commercial activities.  Last week, the Florida House unanimously passed a Bill that supports the Florida High Court’s decision and limits the type of activities that may be included in such a release.  Senate Bill 2440 is the Bill that will help protect Florida’s children in this regard.

The Bill language relates to releasing parties of liability as it relates to “inherent risks” ONLY.  This risk is defined as:
[T]he dangers or conditions that are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of the activity; the failure of the activity provider to warn of the inherent risks; and the risk that the minor child or another participant may act negligently or intentionally and contribute to the injury of the minor child.
Yesterday, the governor of Florida, Governor Crist, signed this pro-consumer piece of legislation into law.  KUDOS to the Florida Justice Association for their hard work and effort in helping to make sure this Bill got to the governor’s desk.

A Baltimore City Ordinance Fuels The Abortion Debate – Archdiocese Goes to Court To Have It Declared Unconstitutional

April 21, 2010

According to a recent article in the Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore City ordinance requires local crisis pregnancy centers to post signs in their clinics disclosing that they do not offer abortion or birth control services. Apparently, this ordinance has angered the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which has decided to file a lawsuit in the Federal District Court, seeking to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional.  Its argument is that the government should be prohibited from compelling speech by requiring the clinics to post signs.  Why would the Archdiocese want to get rid of an ordinance, which, in essence, tells the public “you cannot get an abortion here?”

It appears that the Archdiocese’s remonstration has more to do with what the clinics do separate and apart from what the ordinance requires. Because the clinics must disclose that they do not offer abortion services, some of the clinics choose to post another notice, which informs the public about clinics that do offer abortion services. The ordinance does not require such a notice.

The Archdiocese seems to assume that the clinics would not have the incentive to post information on abortion clinics in the absence of the ordinance. This assumption appears attenuated at best.  Were these notices voluntarily posted by the clinics before the ordinance was enacted? Even if the ordinance were to be repealed, would the clinics still choose to post these notices? After all, they are not compelled to post the notices under the ordinance at the present time.  Whether or not a clinic chooses to post information on abortion clinics, can a patient simply walk in and inquire about abortion clinics?  The bottom line is that these clinics disclose information on abortion services because they want to and not because they have to.

I am curious if the Archdiocese would still want to pursue a lawsuit to repeal the ordinance if the clinics did not post notices with information on abortion clinics. Would it still have a problem with an ordinance telling the public “no abortions here.” Your thoughts?

Contributing author: Jon Stefanuca

Fetal Pain and Suffering: New Nebraska Abortion Law Sparks Debate – When Does a Fetus Feel Pain?

April 17, 2010

An online article posted yesterday in NewScientist raises some interesting issues that will no doubt be the subject of much debate in days, months and years to come – does a fetus feel pain and if so, when? The true focus of this article was the recent (April 13, 2010) passage of new legislation in Nebraska, which essentially prohibits abortions after 20 weeks.  Ostensibly, Nebraska has become the first state to ban abortions on the basis that fetuses feel and appreciate pain.

The law, according to a report in LifeSiteNews.com, goes into effect on October 15, 2010, and has, at a minimum, the following legal implications:

Abortionists who break the law would face a Class IV felony charge, which carries a penalty of a five year maximum prison sentence, $10,000 fine, or both. Women who obtain abortions of their unborn children would face no criminal penalties.

The bill would allow women and even the fathers of aborted unborn children to sue and seek damages from abortionists who violate the law.    

I say “at a minimum” since there are other civil law implications arising from  the rationale behind this legislation. One of those issues often litigated throughout the various courts of the United States is a parent’s right to sue for conscious pain and suffering for fatal or non-fatal injuries to a fetus.  That analysis is beyond the scope of this blog. What is of present importance is the so-called ‘science’ behind this legislation and the response of the scientific community that may well have far-reaching implications in the field of civil litigation.

Before engaging in this discussion, note well: it is not my intention (or desire) to become embroiled in the abortion issue.  That is not what we do in our firm.  It is the state of  science that intrigues me in terms of how that may have relevance to what we do – litigate civil cases involving matters such as fetal death in utero or death or injuries sustained by fetuses due to the negligence of third persons (e.g. medical malpractice, catastrophic automobile accidents and the like).

Apparently, the ‘scientific basis’ for this Nebraska legislation is the research of Kanwaljeet “Sunny” Anand, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  Dr. Anand testified in 2004 on the federal partial birth abortion ban.  He provided his opinion testimony that after 20 weeks gestation, an unborn child would experience “severe and excruciating pain” from an abortion.

Dr. Anand’s opinions are not without numerous critics.  What is significant, however, is that even many scientists, who challenge Dr. Anand’s opinions that 20 weeks of gestation is the point at which a fetus can feel and appreciate pain, do accept the proposition that there is a point in the life of fetus where they can and do appreciate pain and suffering.

Dr. Mark A. Rosen, the Director of Obstetrical Anesthesia at UCSF’s Fetal Treatment Center, in 2005 co-authored an article in JAMA (abstract) that some refer to as the ‘seminal review on fetal pain.’

One of the opinions expressed in that paper defines what is at the center of this discussion – what is meant by ‘perception of pain’?

Pain perception requires conscious recognition or awareness of a noxious stimulus. Neither withdrawal reflexes nor hormonal stress responses to invasive procedures prove the existence of fetal pain, because they can be elicited by non-painful stimuli and occur without conscious cortical processing.

In the NewScientist posting, Dr. Rosen provided rebuttal statements to the premise inherent in the Nebraska legislation that fetal pain occurs at 20 weeks of gestation.

Dr. Rosen states, “The first brain pathways associated with pain perception “are not complete before approximately 29 weeks of gestation”, so although fetuses develop brain wiring from about 23 weeks onwards, the connections are not there to enable them to experience pain.”

Whether it is at 20 weeks or 29 weeks, one common principle exists – according to a number of scientists, there is a point prior to birth that a fetus can appreciate pain from a medical-scientific standpoint – the ‘wiring’ is in place. If this is true scientifically, how does this affect the right of recovery by a parent or the estate of an injured fetus in those jurisdictions permitting conscious pain and suffering damages for injuries to a fetus?

For instance, if a fetus is at 35 weeks gestation and by all other accounts is totally viable with ‘the wiring in place,’ does that fetus and/or the parents have a claim for conscious pain and suffering should injury to the fetus occur?

Does any jurisdiction recognize the right of a fetus to recover for injuries sustained in utero?  Absolutely – it just depends which jursidiction(s) you are considering.  For example, the District of Columbia, in 1946, was the first jurisdiction to recognize the right of a fetus to bring a separate cause of action (Bonbrest v. Kotz). This was an action for damages being brought on behalf of a fetus allegedly injured ‘in the process of being removed from its mother’s womb.’ “Under the civil law and the law of property, a child en ventre sa mère is regarded as a human being from the moment of conception.”

In 1984, the D.C. Court of Appeals, relying in large part on Bonbrest, stated:

Although this court has never considered this question, we note that every jurisdiction in the United States has followed Bonbrest in recognizing a cause of action for prenatal injury, at least when the injury is to a viable infant later born alive.

Note the key conditions: “…when the injury is to a viable infant later born alive.

This posting is already perhaps too long – this topic is multi-faceted and more the subject of a treatise, white paper or a law review article, not a blog.  What is apparent (at least to me) is that this new Nebraska legislation will undoubtedly rekindle the fires of fascinating litigation about fetal rights, fetal and parental causes of action and fetal pain and suffering claims. Stay tuned – there will undoubtedly be much more to come.


Tort Reform – Consider the Consequences – Lesson #1

March 28, 2010

Lost in all of this discussion about how tort reform and caps on damages will save the medical profession has been a discussion of what is really behind all this nonsense.  The Republicans claim that the reason the healthcare system is broken is because of the rising costs of malpractice insurance due to high verdicts, ‘out of control’ juries, the plaintiff lawyers and every other specious argument that sounds good but has no basis in reality.  Study after study has demonstrated that jurisdictions with caps do not affect malpractice insurance rates.

Has anyone really thought about why these naysayers are incessantly calling for a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages?  It’s a simple matter of mathematics.  This number is not based in any reality of insurance rates – now is it?  Have you seen a single study that uses this ‘magic number’ to demonstrate how this will save healthcare?  If you have, please share it with the rest of us.  That comment will be posted in a heartbeat.

So what is behind this ‘number’?  What is the usual contingent fee being charged these days – 33 1/3 or 40 percent?  How much does it cost to investigate, file and try to conclusion a medical malpractice case of any consequence?   Answer: it can range anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 (rough averages but pretty accurate). What is the largest cost?  Answer:  medical experts, who charge anywhere from typically $350 to $1,000 per hour.  What part of the population typically receives less than optimal (read ‘Cadillac’) care – answer: lower income patients without any coverage or without ‘the best coverage. ‘ When those patients seek care, how are those bills often financially covered?  Answer:  Medicaid or Medicare.  Do you have any understanding of what a ‘super lien’ is?  Answer: Medicare and Medicaid have an absolute right to complete reimbursement of any related medical expenses paid out in such cases.

So how do all these numbers, issues and forces play out in the real world of medical malpractice? What effect would a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages have on whether a bona fide lawsuit (read: awful care causing serious injury) could ever be brought to court?

So that this posting can stay within the realm of reason in terms of length, I’ll just give you the above factors to ponder for a bit.  Later posts will give you more concrete examples of how, in the real world of malpractice cases, these specious arguments for caps and ‘tort reform’ are nothing more than an attempt to deny patients and their families of access to the courts.

Let’s leave you with a thought – a patient on Medicaid receives awful medical care leading to horrible injuries requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars in past and future care needs.   What do you think a client would recover in such a situation under ‘tort reform’ and a cap of $250,000?

Recovery of those costs do not go to the patient but are the subject of a reimbursable lien.  That potentially leaves recovery for non-economic damages only.  Apply a fee of one-third (answer:  just over $80,000) and costs of (let’s say) $125,000 (totally within the ‘usual’ range).  Have you done the math?  That’s about $45,000 to the client.  How does a lawyer satisfy a client’s needs in that scenario?  You can’t.  Do you do the case ‘on the cheap’ and not hire the experts or do the discovery you need to do?  You can’t – that runs of the risk for the client of not winning – in which case the recovery is nothing.

Now are you starting to get the picture what is really behind the proposed ‘tort reform’s cap’?  Don’t think for one minute that the medical profession and its insurers haven’t done the math.

More to come….

Maryland House advances bill raising auto liability limits

March 26, 2010

Earlier this week, Maryland came one step closer to mandating increased bodily injury liability limits for their vehicle owners.  In a 97-36 vote, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a measure to increase the coverage.  Here are some of the key details, as reported by Insurance and Financial Advisor:          

The measure, sponsored by 18 Maryland legislators, increases the minimum amounts of coverage for bodily claims or death from a motor vehicle accident from $20,000 to $30,000 for one person, and from $40,000 to $60,000 for any two or more individuals. The proposed legislation would apply to all vehicle liability insurance policies issued, delivered or renewed in the state on or after Jan. 1, 2011, according to the text of the bill.

The fiscal note accompanying the bill said there is not enough data to show an impact on Maryland’s general fund as a result of the measure, but that special fund revenues for the Maryland Insurance Administration may increase by about $25,000 in fiscal year 2011, assuming 200 motor vehicle insurers pay the $125 rate filing fee to comply.

If the Senate Finance Committee gives a favorable report, the bill would then move to the full Maryland Senate.

The increased liability coverage requirement, if passed, would provide an opportunity for injured victims of automobile collisions, depending on the circumstances, to seek additional compensation for their injuries through the increased liability coverage.

Ga. Supreme Court Upholds Key Medical Malpractice Law Requiring Proof of Gross Negligence for Emergency Room Physicians

March 17, 2010

Another legal ruling in the ongoing debate over tort reform – this one from the State of Georgia. MSNBC is reporting (citing Associated Press) that the Georgia Supreme Court, in a divided 4-3 opinion, has upheld a 2005 state law that requires patients to prove “gross negligence,” rather than ordinary negligence, in order to prevail in a medical malpractice case against emergency room physicians.

A Georgia woman, who suffered a stroke after receiving allegedly negligent treatment at an emergency room, challenged the constitutionality of the 2005 law, claiming that it created an insurmountable hurdle at trial.  The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed.

The court’s majority opinion, penned by Justice George Carley, found that it was “entirely logical” for lawmakers to approve the legislation in hopes of stemming the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance.

Usually, the focus of tort reform legislation has been in either instituting a cap on damages, or restricting attorneys’ fees, or both. In 2005, however, the Georgia legislature implemented an additional mechanism that was designed not to limit the amount of recovery in successful lawsuits but was instead specifically designed to make it more difficult for injured patients to prove their case at trial.

Prior to the law enacted in 2005, in order for a patient to prevail in a medical malpractice action, the patient had to be able to prove that the defendant doctor was negligent – i.e. violated the standard of care, which has usually been held to mean that the doctor failed to do what a reasonably competent doctor would have done in the same or similar circumstances. Under the new law in 2005, however, patients were required to prove that the defendant doctor (at least in the emergency room setting) committed “gross negligence,” which is a much higher level of negligence, generally defined as near-total disregard for the rights of others, reckless disregard, or willful or wanton indifference to the consequences of one’s actions.

Clearly, forcing patients to meet this higher burden will make it more difficult for injured patients to sue emergency room physicians, which was the very intent of the Georgia legislature. The ruling also means that negligent doctors who would have been found liable under traditional law will now get off scot-free, leaving injured patients with no recovery.

The same court is expected to rule later this month on the constitutionality of Georgia’s cap of $350,000 on damages for pain and suffering.

Maryland’s Cap and a Message from the former MAJ President re the Goings-On in Annapolis

March 13, 2010

Normally I don’t post materials from my News Feeds on Facebook – however – when you see a particularly well written piece that needs to ‘get out there,’ I make an exception.  The following is a wall posting from the past President of the Maryland Association for Justice, Wayne Willoughby.

by Wayne M. Willoughby                            
Past President, Maryland Association for Justice

In 2004, hysteria struck Annapolis. Hordes of physicians in white coats descended upon the State House demanding so-called “tort reform” as the fix to their rising malpractice premiums. The Maryland Association for Justice (then known as the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association) stood virtually alone in opposing the fear-driven throng.

MAJ retained a highly respected insurance analyst, Jay Angoff, to examine the recent malpractice premium hikes. Mr. Angoff was the third-longest serving insurance commissioner for the State of Missouri and previously had served the State of Maryland as the State’s insurance expert in other matters. His conclusion: the malpractice premium increases that caused the panic were totally unjustified; the doctors were being gouged by their insurance carrier.

So, MAJ advised the members of the General Assembly that they were being hoodwinked. What was needed was aggressive insurance regulation to prevent carriers from gouging doctors, not new laws depriving injured patients of full and fair justice in our courts.

Nevertheless, swept up in the frenzy, the General Assembly enacted House Bill 2 containing a premium subsidy for physicians and some measures that severely punished injured patients. One such measure lowered the damage cap on wrongful death and survival claims to the point that the life of a malpractice victim in Maryland is now worth at law only 50% of the life of a victim of other forms of negligence.

Time proved MAJ was correct, the malpractice “crisis” of 2004 had been a cruel hoax on the public and the General Assembly. Within seven months after passage of HB 2 – years before HB 2’s tort “reforms” could affect claims payouts and premiums – Maryland largest malpractice carrier, Medical Mutual, announced it would not increase premiums for 2006.

For 2007 the carrier lowered its base premiums by 8% and announced a $68.6 Million dividend for its insured physicians. With a new consumer friendly Governor in office, and his new insurance commissioner at the helm, Medical Mutual’s move was greeted by the Maryland Insurance Administration with a cease and desist order.

As a result, the taxpayers of Maryland were able to recoup from Medical Mutual the approximately $84.Million that had been paid to the company for rate stabilization under HB 2. Medical Mutual’s finances were so superb that it still issued a $13.8 Million dividend to physicians and lowered its premiums 8% for 2008 despite paying $84 Million back to the State.

Then, in 2009 Medical Mutual lowered its premiums by 31% (an 11% base premium reduction and a 20% dividend for renewing physicians). Again, in 2010, Medical Mutualannounced another 31% premium reduction (11% plus 20%).

Consequently, the events after the 2004 Special Session demonstrate the truth of what MAJ has said all along: The “crisis” of 2004 was no crisis at all. It was little more than a raid on the public treasury and the legal rights of injured patients accomplished though the use of fear to manipulate public opinion and the legislature.

Although the taxpayers of Maryland have been made whole because of the decisive actions of Governor O’Malley’s insurance commissioner, and doctors have access to “available and affordable” insurance (per the official Maryland Insurance Administration’s report), there is one group that has not been made whole from the damaging effects of the contrived crisis of 2004: injured patients.

Now pending before committees of the General Assembly is a cross-filed bill to rectify this situation. House Bill 622/ Senate Bill 769 will return the damage cap on medical malpractice claims to their pre-hoax levels. If this bill is enacted, injured Marylanders once again would be treated the same under the law irrespective of whether their injury resulted from negligent medical practice, negligent driving, or a defective product.

All people who believe in civil justice should contact the members of the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and demand that they vote in favor of HB 622/SB769.

Keep up all your hard and good  work, Wayne.

CHIP Grants: North Carolina’s Perdue announces $9.3M grant for NC’s children’s health care

February 28, 2010

A positive initiative indeed – North Carolina’s Governor, Bev Perdue, recently announced North Carolina’s receipt of a $9.3 million grant to improve the quality of health care delivered to children.   In an article in Citizen-Times.com, it is reported that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services “was the lead applicant for this competitive grant and worked closely with a coalition of children’s health leaders in the state.”  According to the post, funding will be used to develop technology that tracks and measures quality of care for children.”

“This competitive grant is vital to ensuring that children in our state are healthy and ready to learn,” said Gov. Perdue. “This will help pediatric offices throughout the state make better use of technology so we can be sure that children, those with special needs in particular, are receiving the care they need.”

North Carolina is one of only ten lead states announced as part of the $100 million grant program under the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIPRA).

Talk about someone using federal tax dollars wisely!  It will be most interesting to see how this grant money is, in fact, utilized by states such as North Carolina.  We will try to keep you posted on the success of this project.

If we are reading this legislation correctly, it appears that applications for grant money remains open until (the currently posted ending date of) March 25, 2010.  Further information on the grant program and applications, eligibility and other key aspects of the program are available online at Grants.gov.