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Georgia Med-Mal Legislation Appears DOA this Session

According the Daily Report, it seems that Senate Bill 141, which seeks to eliminate the Constitutional right to trial by jury for Georgians harmed by medical negligence, won’t make it the Senate floor this session. Legislative leaders cite the impending primaries and a looming 2015 budget deadline as reasons not to take up this bill.  Whatever the reason, we applaud Gov. Deal, Speaker Ralston, and others who have chosen to focus their attention on other, more pressing issues.

 For those who are new to the conversation, Senate Bill 141 reflects an idea pushed by a small number of deep-pocketed companies who have made a fortune in the healthcare industry.  They formed an astroturf  organization called “Patients for Fair Compensation” and are spending large amounts of money on a PR campaign and on a well-connected lobbying team to push this proposal. The problem they face is that the proposal itself is deeply flawed and obviously unconstitutional.

 Under Senate Bill 141, someone who thinks they were injured due to medical negligence would submit a claim to a politically-appointed board of doctors who would review the records and determine whether the injuries were due to substandard medical care.  Neither the patient nor the accused healthcare practitioner could present expert testimony to the board.  If the board found for the patient a separate board of would then decide the compensation, again without the extensive input necessary to make a valid decision.   The proposal to replace a Constitutional right with a politically-appointed government bureaucracy has drawn opposition not just from trial lawyers but from the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) and MAGMutual, the state’s largest medical malpractice insurer.

 Atlanta trial lawyer Geoff Pope, co-founder of the law firm of Pope & Howard, P.C. and a former president of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA), was glad to see that Senate Bill 141 was called “dead on arrival.”

 “The fact remains that the measures that Senate Bill 141 proposes are obviously unconstitutional,” said Pope. “If this bill were to pass, the Georgia Supreme Court would hold that it violates the Georgia Constitution’s guarantee that the right to trial by jury shall remain ‘inviolate’.  Injured patients and – just as important – doctors and hospitals have the right to present their claims and defenses to an impartial factfinder in open court.  This misguided proposal would eliminate this right.”

 While we at Pope & Howard, P.C. support thoughtful efforts to improve the civil justice system, Senate Bill 141 goes in the wrong direction.  Frankly, we would rather see the legislature spend time trying to address the problem of preventable medical errors.  While the doctors and nurses who provide care to Georgians are almost universally among the most dedicated professionals in our state, the health care system itself is rife with errors that often have dangerous consequences.  Preventable medical errors are the 6th leading cause of death of Georgians, and over 98,000 Americans die every year due to preventable medical errors.  Instead of wasting time on a study committee to consider an obviously-unconstitutional bill, we suggest that the legislature consider why it is that our health care system is riddled with preventable errors despite the efforts of our dedicated doctors and nurses.  We suspect the answer will lie with decisions made by business executives who have made a fortune in the healthcare industry and are now pushing Senate Bill 141.  Let’s improve the civil justice system and the health care system.  All Georgians — doctors, nurses, and everyone else – deserve no less.

 About Pope & Howard, P.C.

 Founded by Geoff Pope and Marc Howard in 2005, Pope & Howard, P.C. is an Atlanta area trial law firm that specializes in nursing home negligence,  tractor trailer accidentsconstruction site injuries, and other cases of catastrophic personal injury. For more information, visit the firm online at www.popehoward.com.

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Pope & Howard P.C.

945 East Paces Ferry Road
Suite 2525
Atlanta, Georgia 30326

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