An Arizona medical malpractice reform bill, which was signed into law last summer and went into effect recently, makes it harder for patients to sue hospitals, emergency room physicians, on-call specialists, and other hospital personnel involved in providing emergency treatment.
Senate Bill 1018 raised the burden of proof required by plaintiffs to sue health care practitioners. Under the new law, plaintiffs will have to prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that the health care provider committed negligence. “Clear and convincing” evidence is the highest legal standard of proof required in a civil case, and is not easy to prove. Previously, plaintiffs only had to prove by a “preponderance of evidence” that negligence had been committed. “Preponderance of evidence” means that the evidence shows that it was more likely than not that the medical professional’s acts or omissions violated the accepted standard of medical care and caused the patient’s injury. This standard is considerably easier to prove than clear and convincing evidence.
Proponents of this change believe that making it harder to sue emergency medical personnel will encourage doctors and specialists to care for emergency room patients and will improve the overall quality of emergency health care. Concerns over the loss of doctors and specialists in the emergency medicine field due to high insurance premiums and fear of lawsuits prompted the Arizona legislature to make the reform. Opponents to the change have argued that the reform will make it difficult to for injured patients to bring or win a malpractice claim against emergency care providers. They claim that the chilling effect caused by the higher burden of proof will discourage injured patients with legitimate claims from pursing their valid malpractice cases and that the new bill will give favored status to emergency room providers. Opponents have also challenged the allegation that the bill will encourage specialists to provide emergency care. Patients in emergency rooms often cannot pay, the opponents claim, and changing the burden of proof for malpractice cases will not change the fact that specialists want to be paid.