Bixby v. KBR–Oregon Congressional Delegation members push back on KBR and Department of Defense

The Oregon Qarmat Ali Vets’ case, Bixby v. KBR, continues. A group of 12 of these veterans won a stunning $85 million verdict against KBR for toxic harms suffered in Iraq at a KBR- contaminated site. After the verdict, and while the case was on KBR’s slow-track appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court issued, Walden v. Fiorean opinion in an unrelated case that changed the rules of jurisdiction. When the case came before the Ninth Circuit, it remanded the case because jurisdiction was improper.

And then KBR filed a claim for costs against these veterans, seeking approximately $850,000 from 12 sick vets who provided KBR with security. KBR got paid handsomely for its war-time work on a no-bid contract. KBR is seeking to have the United States indemnify it for all costs in these lawsuits. And even so–after winning on a technicality–KBR is now seeking to bankrupt these vets.

There are countless horror stories involving our vets. And this is one more. They served. They were sent. They did their jobs. They sacrificed. And now this.

It is perhaps too much to hope that anyone will care. And that is the point of this post. Thanks are due to members of the Oregon Congressional Delegation: Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, Rep. Blumanauer, Rep. Schrader, Rep. Bonamici, and Rep. DeFazio did Oregon proud when they wrote this  Ltr Or Cong to DOD 15 July 2015 letter to the Department of Defense, blasting KBR and calling on the Department of Defense to take over these cases and resolve them equitably.

“These veterans deserve better***.”  I couldn’t agree more.

-David

Let’s end Oregon insurance companies exemption from Oregon consumer protection laws

Great KOIN-6 News report here KOIN-6 Iteam Hold Oregon insurers accountable highlighting the loophole that gives Oregon insurance companies a pass on Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practice Act, our signature consumer protection law.

A pending bill, HB 3160-A would close the loophole. The bill amends the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act to cover insurance companies.  Like all other Oregon businesses, insurance companies should be held to basic levels of fairness when dealing with consumers. It is time that our legislators act to rein in those insurance companies that engage in fraud and abuse.

That’s why we support HB 3160-A. You should too.

Memo to the Oregon Legislature: Healthcare Transformation Starts with Patient Safety

The Oregon Legislature is back in session and grappling with proposed health care transformation. Yesterday, we learned that some legislators are more concerned about “defensive medicine” and putting an arbitrary limit on access to justice for Oregonians who are on the Oregon Health Plan or Medicaid rather than they are about keeping patients safe.

Did you know that more than 98,000 Americans die every year from medical errors?  Here is some context: That number is equivalent to a 747 jet liner crashing every day of the year killing all on board. So when we talk about healthcare transformation, shouldn’t we really be talking about patient safety?

We need to focus on the real problem with health care delivery and that is keeping patients safe and informed.  Recently, Legacy Emanuel participated in a national study where they implemented simple procedures and check lists for all hospital staff to follow.  You know, things like washing your hands between each patient, making certain all medical equipment is accounted for before finishing a surgery, that the patient is the same person as the chart on the end of their bed.  According to the Oregonian’s report on that study, Legacy saved over $13 million in one year, cut down on medical errors and significantly lowered their infection and injury rates.  Imagine the cost savings if these check lists and procedures were implemented in every Oregon health facility. Imagine the health improvement and lives saved from real health care transformation that starts with patient safety.

Instead of focusing on patient safety, we have legislators holding forth about something they call “defensive medicine,” They are using that label as a tool to put arbitrary monetary limits on patients’ rights. Here is a modest proposal: If we’re going to talk about things like this, let’s resolve to get the facts straight.

The label “defensive medicine” presumably refers to tests ordered by a provider for purposes of preventing or defending against a lawsuit. A provider who orders testing with no therapeutic value commits insurance fraud, violates Oregon law, and ignores the first rule of medical ethics to do no harm. The doctor who orders unnecessary tests puts the patient at risk by subjecting the patient to an unnecessary medical procedure.  And legislators think that Oregon doctors routinely order unnecessary tests, committing Medicare or insurance fraud and putting patients at risk because what? To keep insurance premiums lower? Really?

In the same opinion piece there was a second solution to “the problem.” There is a reason for the quotes: No one has ever identified the problem. Even for lack of a problem, some Oregon legislators seek to impose a two-tier justice system.  Under the plan that is a solution in search of a problem, the two-tier system would mean two levels of justice. The first tier is reserved for individuals with private insurance. The second tier is for patients on the Oregon Health Plan (OHP).

The new legislation would strip OHP patients a basic constitutional right to trial by jury and instead and would limit or cap how much OHP patients can sue for when they are injured due to negligent, substandard medical care. That’s right, under the solution to the non-problem OHP patients claims would be limited even when a provider gives care that is proven to be negligent.

The legislators pushing this agenda presumably are doing it in the name of lower doctor malpractice premiums. What they are not saying is that this solution to non-problem has been tried in other states. The result: No noticeable effect on doctor liability insurance premiums.

Under this emerging plan, if you have the good fortune to have your own insurance, you would be able to hold a negligent care provider accountable for substandard or negligent care. If a surgeon mistakenly amputates the wrong leg and you are on OHP, the two-tier system of justice would limit your access to justice, no matter how egregious the negligence, no matter how high your lifetime medical costs, no matter your life situation.  And this limit would take the form of a fixed limitation set by the Oregon Legislature. Because those who believe that their solution is necessary are also dead certain that the Oregon Legislature is better able to set damages in all cases than a jury that decides each case on the evidence.

It’s time that the political agenda of the few take a back seat to patient safety. It is time to make certain that health care transformation puts patient safety first.

Sen. Santorum and the Hypocrisy of Damage Caps

I’ve heard so much about the Santorum surge and how he is a man of principle–a values candidate, a different kind of politician.

Senator Santorum has been part of the echo chamber for caps on damages in medical injury lawsuits. He hits all the rhetoric about how caps are necessary because of frivolous lawsuits, rising health care costs, etc. According to Senator Santorum, Congress knows better than a jury the value of all patient injury cases, and no patient should ever recover more than $250,000 in non-economic harms when the defendant is a doctor or a hospital.

Yes, that includes the drunken doctor botching a surgery, sex abusers in the exam room, and hospitals that dump patients on the streets. Never more than $250,000 because Senator Santorum and Congress know better than a jury.

So imagine my surprise when a colleague in New York, Andy Barovick (@AndyBarovick), posted a link on Twitter to a news report about Senator Santorum’s wife’s malpractice claim against her chiropractor in which she sought $500,000 in non-economic harms. For those playing at home, that’s twice the amount of the cap Senator Santorum and Congress want to impose on the rest of us.

Here’s the corrected link to the news report (second video)Well worth watching.

Senator, On the off chance that you or your staff are reading this: Shame on you.

Update 7 Jan 2012: Law blogger, Eric Turkewitz, New York Personal Injury Law Blog, takes a different approach in defense of Senator Santorum here. While he makes a good point that Senator Santorum is not responsible for his wife’s choices, he misses the mark. Senator Santorum participated in the case, testifying as a damages witness. In the linked interview (above), Senator Santorum claims that the verdict included a substantial amount of economic damages that would not be subject to the cap. The news report debunks that excuse and lie. At bottom, Senator Santorum knows from personal experience that the proposed cap is wrong because one size justice does not fit all. We need to trust juries to do what is right and not put in Congress’s hands the ability to determine damages in all cases.