Speaker gives detailed explanation of medical malpractice bill

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(Graphic courtesy of Speaker Terlaje's office)

The second pubic hearing for Bill 112-36, the medical malpractice bill sponsored by Speaker Therese Terlaje, is scheduled for 5 pm this afternoon at the Legislature’s public hearing room.

In preparation for the public hearing, Speaker Therese Terlaje has issued the following statement:

“I am encouraged by the tremendous level of engagement we are receiving, reminding us of the importance of this issue. Based on testimony from our healthcare professionals, we must clarify the legal complexities contained in the bill and the underlying principle – that arbitration, as mandated by current law, is cost-prohibitive even for those who may have valid claims. Many of our health care professionals agree that this injustice must be resolved by lowering the costs for arbitration. That’s exactly what Bill 112-36 does.

“Bill 112-36 removes the mandate to arbitrate under very specific terms dictated by law, allowing medical professionals to negotiate with the claimants on how many or what type of arbitrators will sit on the panel based on the Guam Arbitration Act. The bill also allows for mediation, which is not allowed under current law. If the parties do not agree to mediation or arbitration, the claim will be screened by a Magistrate Judge without the need for arbitration filing fees or arbitrator costs. Expert medical witnesses will be hired by each party and their testimony presented to arbitrators, mediators, or magistrate just as is done in the current arbitration process.

The Bill Does Not:

o Remove the screening process meant to mitigate frivolous lawsuits, it enhances the process

o Allow for claims to go directly to court

o Contemplate what is considered malpractice under Guam’s legal definition of standard of care nor make determinations on how doctors should practice medicine. This is already in Guam’s laws.

“In addition, claims filed are kept confidential through the screening process. Magistrate findings are not intended to be deemed “civil judgments” reportable to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) and are described in the bill as “shall not be conclusive and can be refuted” in trial.

“I am confident in the Judiciary’s ability and competence to adjust to the additional mandate in the bill, especially since the Judiciary already handles malpractice lawsuits and the information available from testimony shows less than 10 cases a year. The bill and our entire system of justice presumes the third branch to be competent and fair in all cases, and other jurisdictions also have pre-trial screening panels managed by the Judicial Branch. The Judiciary’s need to prepare for implementation of a change in law are valid and expected, as is continuous training for judges and magistrates in the handling of the expansion of duties as has happened dramatically in the past few years for both magistrates and judges, without looking to any other branch for its training or competency needs.

“Expert witness fees are borne by each party under Bill 112-36, just as they are under the current arbitration law and would not impose an additional financial burden on the courts. The confirmation hearing for the new Judge is in a few days which should help address the court’s backlog. In addition, the Judiciary is expected to receive a portion of the ARP funds, which should also assist with its finances.

“If we are sincere about reaching a consensus, we must focus on real facts and not fear. I urge our entire community to come forward with their stories, questions and concerns so we can put it on the record for deliberation.”

Attached is a graphic comparing the current pre-trial process for healthcare providers and the proposed process for the same providers under Bill 112.

The bipartisan Bill 112 was sponsored by Therese M. Terlaje, Telo T. Taitague, Joanne Brown, Joe S. San Agustin, V. Anthony Ada, Telena C. Nelson, Christopher M. Duenas, Clynton E. Ridgell, Amanda L. Shelton, Jose Pedo Terlaje, and Sabina F. Perez.

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. For additional information regarding this press release, please contact Speaker Terlaje’s office at 472-3586; senatorterlajeguam@gmail.com.

All hearings will be broadcast on GTA TV Channel 21, Docomo Channel 117/112.4, and via Guam Legislature Media on Youtube. Recordings of the hearings will be available on the Guam Legislature Media YouTube Channel after the hearings. All documents submitted relative to Bill 112-36 will be available at senatorterlaje.com. Reports on three hearings held during the 35th Guam Legislature on MMMAA can be found at https://guamlegislature.com/35th_comm_report.htm.

(Speaker Therese Terlaje Release)