Overwhelming response to first public hearing on medical malpractice bill

First public hearing on Bill 112. (PNC video capture)

Speaker Therese Terlaje held the first of the public hearings on Bill 112-36 and there was an overwhelming response as dozens came in to testify and the hearings extended deep into Thursday night.

The measure is intended for those harmed by medical negligence who cannot afford mandatory arbitration while ensuring confidential screening and protection of doctors against frivolous claims.

Guam’s Medical Malpractice Mandatory Arbitration Act (MMMAA) requires individuals claiming to have been victims of medical malpractice to first arbitrate their complaint before filing in court. Bill 112 allows for arbitration and mediation under terms agreed upon by both parties. If parties do not agree on the terms, a claim can be reviewed confidentiality by a Magistrate Judge with the testimony of expert physician witnesses.

The Magistrate Judge is responsible for determining whether there is evidence to support the conclusion that a healthcare provider failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care. The Magistrate Judge may consider expert testimony, and shall keep the complaint, proceedings, and opinion sealed until 30 days after issuance of opinion; however, the Magistrate may order the opinion sealed temporarily for an extended period or permanently upon agreement by the parties, if a trial is not pursued. Findings of fact and decisions made by applicable licensing boards on the same subject of the complaint may be considered by the Magistrate Judge. Either party may pursue their right to a jury trial within 30 days after the Magistrate Judge renders his or her opinion.

Dr. Stan Yasuhiro, came forward to correct the record from previously stated misinformation by medical professionals that “The National Practitioner Data Bank does not record how many lawsuits or malpractice suits have been filed. It is actually how many cases have been completed and deemed malpractice. There is a big difference, so please know it,” which means that claims filed with a Magistrate Judge would not be reported prior to judgment.

The following are excerpts from comments provided by members of the public including patients and family members, and healthcare providers:

“I am here to support this bill. These doctors need to be accountable for their actions.” – Walter Duenas (Parent alleging medical malpractice in the treatment of his minor child)

“If a doctor is competent and meticulous, he need not fear malpractice.” – Ken Leon Guerrero

“Bill 112 is a good start – need to bring in all the right stakeholders who have all the right information to craft the best policy possible.” – Dr. Ron McNinch

“I believe that the problem we are debating is whether we prioritize the health and access to care of the community at the expense of the individual or do we prioritize the individual’s access to due process at the expense of the community?” – Dr. Alexandra Leon Guerrero

“Would you pass Bill 112-36 if you knew it would save a child’s life or several lives on Guam? Well, this bill if law would have saved Baby Faith and if not would have identified her doctor and others before she or they went off to make the same tragic mistakes with others. This bill is about saving lives not saving money for doctors. Not passing this means we have to sacrifice our loved ones on Guam and there is clear statistics that support this.” – David Lubofsky

“Despite these complexities, we stand in support of the bill and its intentions to provide a more equitable means for the people of Guam to file medical malpractice claims. Especially, we support this bill due to its design for fair, impartial and financially accessible methods for all members of the community who seek protections.”.” – Rosario Perez

Not familiar

Speaker Terlaje said she heard many say that they advocate for less expensive arbitration and a pre-trial screening process and she said that’s exactly what Bill 112-36 does.

“It was clear to me that some of the doctors who testified were not familiar with the legal complexities of the measure. I look forward to continuing to engage them with more discussions. An additional public hearing which will be announced shortly,” Terlaje said.

Senator Telo Taitague, Chairperson of the Committee on Health’s Subcommittee on the Medical Malpractice Law, said: “I thank our families for courageously stepping up and voicing their concerns with the mandatory medical malpractice arbitration law. The individuals who testified in favor of strengthening access to our legal system for the most vulnerable in our community who may have been victims of medical malpractice, should not be discouraged from speaking up especially in the face of influential and organized opponents of Bill 112. I am grateful for their input, and I look forward to listening to comments from additional members of our community on this difficult but necessary dialogue because the lives of all who call Guam home are at stake.”

The Committee on Health will continue to receive testimony on Bill 112 throughout the month of July and will be announcing details for an additional public hearing on the measure for members of the public to participate in going forward.

(Speaker Therese Terlaje Release)