House moving on bill that would shield ER docs from malpractice lawsuits

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A House committee Friday easily approved a bill that would help shield emergency-room doctors from costly medical malpractice lawsuits, refers to News Service of Florida. The bill (HB 385) would extend state sovereign immunity protections to those doctors. In many cases, the bill would effectively prevent doctors from facing liability of more than $200,000 if they are sued because of an emergency-room malpractice complaint. The bill also would make other changes in malpractice laws, such as giving defense attorneys a new power to conduct what are known as “ex parte communications.” Defense attorneys would be able to interview doctors who treat injured patients, without lawyers for the injured patients being present. The House Judiciary Committee voted 11-2 to approve the bill, with only Reps. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach, opposed. Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, argued that emergency-room doctors deserve extra protection because they “have to take patients as they come,” typically without knowing anything about the patients’ medical histories. But Debra Henley, executive director of the Florida Justice Association trial lawyers group, said very few emergency-room visits lead to medical-malpractice cases and that granting sovereign immunity could expose state taxpayers to liability in cases with large damages. Similar bills have been filed in the Senate but have not been heard in committees.

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