Vice Speaker withdraws support from medical malpractice bill

Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes (PNC file photo)

Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes has withdrawn her support from a bill that would change how medical malpractice claims are addressed.

Barnes, who was once in support of Bill 112-36, is now withdrawing her co-sponsorship due to the opposition from numerous medical professionals.

In a letter she recently sent to Speaker Therese Terlaje, Muna-Barnes stated:

“Based on previous conversations, I supported Bill 112-36 because I was informed by you that you spoke to our island’s medical community. However, I received multiple calls from members of the medical community to the contrary…Over the last few weeks, I have listened to our island’s medical community — all of whom vehemently oppose Bill 112-36. While our island’s frontline workers and health professionals have done their best to keep us healthy and safe, COVID-19 has exposed the shortcomings in our healthcare system. Our island is limited in the number of medical specialists. We cannot afford to further limit our island’s medical options. In addition to meeting with doctors, I have also heard from a number of patients who have expressed their deepest concerns with Bill 112-36. Many of our residents have debilitating conditions and will be left with no access to a provider as they cannot afford to take the risk associated with treating them.”

During the informational hearing on Wednesday, Senator Telo Taitague said that medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

The current law requires private arbitration before a malpractice claim can go to court. Estimates on the cost of arbitration are around $50,000.

Bill 112 would replace the arbitration panel with a magistrate.

Taitague says that the current law puts up barriers of cost and time that prevent poor and working-class residents from pursuing malpractice claims.

“The good Senator (Joanne) Brown brought up the fact that it comes right here and you can imagine losing a loved one or even being the plaintiff yourself, where you’re sick or something devastating happens to you where you’re going to need continuous care and here you are, trying to fight for justice. So it does become very heart-wrenching for these individuals. I mean, I’m hearing all these doctors who have an issue with this bill because they’re afraid they’re going to be sued They talk about their problems and not once have I ever heard them talk about the issues of the patients,” Taitague said.

Attorney Robert L. Keogh of the Keogh Law Office sent a letter to Speaker Terlaje in hopes it will present a balanced view on Bill 112-36.

In the letter, Keogh explains that he has taken the time read all of the comments of several medical practitioners and the remarks of a few members of the public who claim to be victims of medical malpractice.

Keogh understands that arbitration under the current law is unfair to victims of medical malpractice, however, he does the understand medical community’s fear that an easier path to pursuing malpractice claims will increase the number of frivolous claims.

In his overall statement, he says:

“I commend the Legislature for taking on this difficult issue. The medical community has launched a strong lobbying campaign to prevent the repeal of MMAA arbitration. The victims of medical negligence do not have a strong organised lobby since people do not know they are a member of the victim community until they become one and then it is too late for them to do anything to lobby for change in the law as it affects them,” the lawyer said.