Is There a Statue of Limitations in Heaven?
Question for our theologians and wannabe theologians: Is there a statute of limitation in heaven? You know, if you do something really bad and stupid at, say, age 21, but live to the ripe old age of 95, does the good Lord sigh and say, "Gee, would love to hold that one against you but the clock ran out 50 years ago!" I don't think so.
Now, I believe many Jews and Christians profess an age of accountability, whereby you are not held liable for any misdeeds until you reach a certain age such as 12 or 13 years old. However, given what we know about the teenage and young adult mind, perhaps the age of accountability should be pushed back to our mid-thirties!
I truly believe each of us will have to account for our life to God, and I am reminded of this when I attend church on Sunday mornings. However, I am troubled by faith-based organizations that preach about your eternal soul on the Sabbath, but send high-priced lawyers to court on Monday morning to argue their sins from the past are time-barred and beyond prosecution. How do you square that?
Recently, Pennsylvania officials blew the lid off a decades-long cover up of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church. In response, Keystone state lawmakers introduced legislation to extend the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse. The Catholic Church was not happy, and mounted a full court lobbying effort to the kill the legislation, which included publicly naming and shaming Catholic lawmakers who voted for the legislation! Here and here are some samples of the news coverage.
I am writing this column for two reasons. First, we have many faith-based healthcare organizations that read this e-newsletter. These organizations need to question if their risk management principles are consistent with their faith? Moreover, are their lawyers acting in manner that is respectful of their faith? Second, whether or not you work for faith-based healthcare organization, we are all moral creatures, and sometimes there is a profound difference between what is legally right and morally wrong. You can pay high-priced attorneys a truck load of money to "win" a case, but in so doing destroy your culture and the morale of your staff, and make your hospital or nursing home a much more dangerous place for patients and residents.
Now, I am not a lawyer, but I work with lawyers and risk and claims professionals closely in my professional duties. The courts have statute of limitations in place because over time memories fade, evidence is lost or destroyed, and witnesses move away or die. Moreover, to accurately access risk and price their products, insurance companies need to be able to close the books on cases at a certain point of time. I respect the concept of statute of limitations.
However, let's say you are the chief risk officer for a healthcare organization, and a case comes across your desk that is, for example, four years old, the statutes expired two years ago (statutes in most states are two years with some exceptions), but the evidence is absolutely clear that compensable errors happened. Moreover, when you pull the doc into your office he/she readily admits to the mistakes. So, what are you going to do? Put the case in the file drawer and hope it never sees the light of day? Notify your lawyer? Or call the family?
Or, spin the scenario another way....let's say your hospital killed a 32-year old man who was not married and had no dependents, but you operate in one of those states that does not allow parents or siblings in such cases to pursue a lawsuit. What would you do? Call the lawyers, or work with the family?
Now, many claims professionals would argue there is absolutely no duty to pay on such cases. However, regular readers of this space know that claims professionals (and many lawyers too) often fail to look at the big picture, including all the angles on money and the bottom line. Yes, with disclosure you will pay on cases you otherwise might be able to "win," but in so doing you are making an investment in the culture and safety of your organization. By paying on such cases, you are not only running a morally superior disclosure program (which God would approve of!), but you are also more likely to learn from cases, make improvements, and be in a better position to prevent errors in the future which will lead to tremendous savings. Moreover, by being known for doing the right thing you will dramatically improve the morale of your staff, leading to improvements in retention and recruitment -- which have enormous implications for the bottom line.
Morality versus legalisms is an important issue to keep in mind as you develop your disclosure program. We cover these issues and much more in the Sorry Works! Tool Kit....to order your copy click here.
Finally, Happy Father's Day to my dad and all the dads out there, and thank you to my children Will (age 10) and Claire (age 6) for making my life so rich.