Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The $500 Million Outrage

A jury awarded over $500 million to one plaintiff who was infected with hepatitis by a Las Vegas Endoscopy Clinic that was reusing needles in an effort to save money. There was no question that the clinic and it’s lead physician, Dr. Desai, were negligent in causing nearly 40 people to become infected and causing distress to innumerable patients at that clinic, which has been subsequently closed down. Dr. Desai also has had his medical license revoked. This award, and the others that are surely to follow by the other thirty-nine or so infected patients, would be a good thing by punishing healthcare providers who abuse the public trust. Except Dr. Desai, (who has shown no remorse), was subsequently found not able to stand trial due to a medical condition—he had a ‘stroke’ whose severity has been called into question and was found not able to participate in his own defense. He also has filed for bankruptcy protection. So if Dr. Desai doesn’t have to pay the award, who was sued ? His medical malpractice insurance ? No. (Even though the trial lawyers used the scandal when it was first discovered last year to try to repeal Nevada’s $350,000 cap on pain and suffering damages). No, Dr. Desai’s malpractice insurance didn’t pay because what Dr. Desai did was a criminal and illegal act. Malpractice insurance insures doctors for unintentional mistakes that cause harm to patients. Intentionally harming (or intentionally disregarding established medical practices designed to prevent harming someone) are NOT (rightly so) covered by malpractice. How can insurance companies, or ANYONE for that matter, guard against intentional criminal acts ? The answer is they can’t, and shouldn’t be held liable if someone uses a legal product illegally. It’s why the gun industry hasn’t been successfully sued for all the murders in the U.S. (or the knife-manufacturers for all the stabbings, or the film industry for allowing Uwe Boll films to be shown).

Or so we thought. While the infected patients’ situation is an outrage and they are victims in every sense of the word, the defendant who has to pay the $500 million award is also an outrage. Seeing as the doctor and the endoscopy clinic had no assets, the plaintiff’s lawyers looked at whom they COULD sue. Anybody who’s watched a sleazy lawyer on the silver screen knows you look for the money. And in this case it was the pharmaceutical companies that provided drugs to the clinic. It’s a well know fact, that if you buy in bulk, you save money. We only have to look at the success of COSTCO or Sam’s Club to see that. Apparently that’s not a good enough excuse for pharmaceuticals. They produced large bottles of an injectible drug that "allowed" the clinic to reuse the syringes. I guess they thought that if the drug were available in individual doses, then the plaintiffs wouldn’t have been infected. Oh, that and a warning label that stated that a new needle should be used each time. That Implies that the doctor and his staff didn’t know you don't reuse syringes (and would have actually complied with that). I’m sorry, but if you go to school for years and years and have MD or RN at the end of your name, I’m thinking that you already know that you don’t reuse needles. The jury saw it otherwise and cast the blame on the deep pockets. Except those ‘deep’ pockets get their paychecks from insurance companies and those unlucky enough not to have health insurance. Even if this award is appealed successfully (which both drug companies are doing), the damage is done. Drug companies from here on out will ‘idiot-proof’ every drug that heretofore was able to packaged in bulk. Not only will it cost more money for drugs, but also is a waste of our natural resources. Where does the insanity end ?

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