Hospital Apologizes for Kids' Deaths Then Fight Lawsuits?
Children's Hospital of New Orleans recently issued a public apology regarding the deaths of children due to a fungal outbreak at the hospital during 2008 and 2009-- and the hospital never told the families at the time. According to news reports, the hospital's medical director said "the hospital 'dropped the ball' when it came to communicating with patients' families....'We failed to do what we should have done.'" Now some of the families have filed lawsuits and they are suing the hospital and the linen supplier for general liability, which would get the families past the three year statute of limitations and the $500,000 med-mal cap in Louisiana. The hospital is fighting the lawsuits by saying the claims should have been filed under medical malpractice, not general liability. At least one plaintiff's attorney is even saying publicly that the hospital's apology was wordsmithed to avoid general liability claims. The links for the news stories are below.
Why are we playing these lawyer games? Seriously.
The hospital apologized and, regardless of the Statue of Limitations, should be sitting down with the families to craft resolutions that meet the economic and emotional needs of the families in a fair and expedited manner. The hospital should not have waited to be sued. They should be actively approaching families (and their attorneys). It's not only the right thing to do, but it's smart in the bigger picture, including the hospital's reputation in the community. Sometimes defense lawyers and business people lose sight of the bigger picture.
I can hear the howls now from defense lawyers and some CEOs. Look, I understand why we have statute of limitations on liability claims....it's truly about fairness because evidence gets lost, memories fade, witnesses move away or die, and businesses and insurers need to accurately calculate their risk. I get it. And, no, I am not asking hospitals to go back and look at every death over the last 30 years, yet defense lawyers shouldn't be so naive to think a case like this will bring a deluge of families asking about other deaths and injuries. When a case rises to the level as described here -- either through the hospital's internal review or a family coming forward -- we simply need to do what's right. Not only what's right for the family (or families), but also the hospital. Apologizing then using legal loopholes to avoid compensating people looks sleazy. It destroys your internal culture, and wrecks your reputation in the community. It's cost you more money in the long run.
In a case like this, perhaps the best thing to do is sit down with families, apologize, and ask what they need. You might be surprised....risk managers all around the country are doing this and the requests from consumers are often very reasonable and sometimes too modest.
This is a tough example of morality and the law colliding. And as old saying goes, just because something is legal doesn't make it right.
In some ways, this Louisiana story reminds me of a case that Sorry Works! wrote about last year in a which a 28-year old woman pregnant with twins dies unexpectedly in a Catholic Hospital, the family sues, and the defense lawyers tried to wiggle out of the case by arguing that a fetus is not a person --- a direct contradiction of Catholic teaching! The Bishops had to intervene. Just because it's legal doesn't make it right! Or when you read about a sex abuse claim against the Catholic Church the defense lawyers will often try to wiggle by claiming Statute of Limitations. I'm sorry...I don't think Jesus Christ ever talked about "Statute of Limitations"....only words like "eternity" came from His mouth. Here is the link for last year's story on the Catholic Hospital: http://sorryworksblog.net/?p=368.
In fact, this is really a prime example of why disclosure is such culture shock for folks in the legal, insurance, and healthcare industries. It's a total game changer. It's not just about saying "sorry." Instead of hiding from people and playing legal games, we are going to be completely transparent and fix problems, and when we do this we save money and make fewer medical errors, which saves even more money. And we really save money when an adverse event was NOT a mistake and we are believable to consumers and PI lawyers. But, to get there you have to go all the way, including paying on cases where you could "legally" win. Doing what's right must always trump legalities. To do this, you need to have all your people aligned, especially your defense lawyers.
At Sorry Works!, we help institutions get all their folks aligned on disclosure. To learn how we can help your organization, call 618-559-8168 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are links for news stories about the Children's Hospital case: http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2014/04/lawsuits_over_childrens_hospit.html AND http://www.nola.com/health/index.ssf/2014/04/childrens_hospital_we_failed_t.html.