Ariz. Senate Backs Higher Hurdle for Some Malpractice Suits

March 8, 2006

Arizona’s Senate voted to make it more difficult to win medical malpractice lawsuits over emergency health care, a step which supporters said is needed to prevent physicians from refusing to work in emergency rooms.

Insurance companies, hospitals and physicians support the bill, the only major piece of legislation on medical malpractice being considered by Arizona lawmakers during their current session. It’s opposed by attorneys who represent lawsuit plaintiffs.

The Arizona Medical Association, a statewide group representing physicians, decided against asking lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment on the issue on the November ballot.

The bill would require a higher legal burden of proof for medical malpractice lawsuits against health care personnel in emergency health care situations, and supporters said they hope the change would deter some lawsuits and prevent the flight of physicians from emergency-room duty.

“Does that cure the situation? No, but it helps in my opinion,” said Sen. Robert Cannell, a Yuma Democrat who is a pediatrician.

Otherwise, “the day will come when you’re not going to have somebody in the emergency room,” said Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale. “I want an emergency room doctor. I want them for my grandchildren. I want them for people who have crises.”

Sen. Bill Brotherton, a Phoenix Democratic and attorney whose law practice does not include medical malpractice, tried unsuccessfully to have the Senate amend the bill to assign a specific legal duty of care to hospitals so that malpractice victims still could sue them under the current, lower standard of proof.

The Senate approved the bill (SB1351) on a voice vote. Passage on a formal vote would send it to the House.

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