Doctors are always at a disadvantage when it comes to administrators and lawyers. Administrators meet all day, comparing and sharing information, and therefore have all the leverage in any contract negotiations or bureaucratic bombshell they want to drop on us docs. We are too busy treating patients to arm ourselves with the proper information (or will) to fight back. Lawyers do the same thing. They are out there always looking for that edge to, well, screw us. Recently, as pointed out in the American Medical News, they found a doozy. A California appeals court has ruled that a physician who allegedly failed to refer a patient to a specialist can be liable for elder abuse. This is bad. The repercussions from this will be:
- Broadening of the liability for doctors who treat older patients and it exposes doctors to additional legal penalties when negligence claims arise.
- To open the door for medical malpractice plaintiffs over the age of 65 to start pleading elder abuse in addition to medical malpractice.
- To allow lawyers to circumvent tort reform statutes since elder abuse is not included in such medical liability reforms.
So, why did the lawyers go this route instead of just the normal malpractice professional negligence route? Because if the decision stands, physicians found liable of elder abuse would be forced to pay jury awards out of pocket because malpractice insurance policies do not cover elder abuse claims. This will lead to doctors being forced to just settle any lawsuit case instead of risking bankruptcy.
I bet these lawyers are high-fiving themselves over this win. They won’t be so excited, however, when there aren’t any doctors to see their grandparents in the nursing home anymore.