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Patients -- Not ERs and Big Pharma -- Need Protection

RALEIGH, N.C., April 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Immunity shields for ERs that commit malpractice and pharmaceutical companies that sell bad drugs are unnecessary and dangerous.  Yet both are centerpieces of legislation under consideration by the House Special Committee on Tort Reform, which meets again on Thursday at 11am.  

Today, the North Carolina Coalition for Patient Safety (NC-CPS) released a new report -- based on NC court files -- showing that there were only five verdicts in NC against providers of ER care from 1999 through 2010, and only one since 2004. The highest verdict against a doctor or hospital based on substandard ER care was $650,000.

There are 4,000,000 ER visits per year in North Carolina. That means there has been about one verdict per 8,000,000 ER visits since 1999.

On Thursday, the House Select Committee on Tort Reform will vote on Senate Bill 33.  The bill includes a provision making negligence in the ER legal: an ER doctor could only be found liable if he intentionally harmed the patient.

Lobbyists for the North Carolina Medical Society have argued that providers of ER care need special legislative protection from liability.  The facts, however, do not support their argument.

Laurie Sanders, Executive Director of NC-CPS commented on the new report: "Under the current legal standard, providers of ER care have a tiny risk of being found liable for malpractice.  At the same time, 4,000 patients die and 5,700 are permanently injured in North Carolina hospitals every year because of preventable medical mistakes.  We need to give more protection to patients, not to the negligent hospitals and doctors who harm them."

Letter from Grieving Father

The committee will also vote Thursday on granting immunity to negligent drug manufacturers.  In a letter to Committee Chair Johnathan Ryhne, Andy Ayers of Eden, NC describes the death of his wife Tamara at age 22 because of a drug called Parlodel.  Tamara died just eight days after giving birth.

"My son never had the chance to be rocked to sleep or kissed goodnight by his mother," Ayers writes. "Please do not grant immunity to drug companies for their wrongdoing to North Carolinians."

Under the bill, drug companies could not be sued by those harmed by defective and dangerous drugs unless the company obtained FDA approval by fraud or bribery.  Even if the product is later found to be harmful or deadly, the drug manufacturer -- so long as it had FDA approval -- cannot be held liable.  Only one other state, Michigan, has passed a similarly extreme law, and it was the subject of a repeal movement this year.

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SOURCE NC Advocates for Justice
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