Do Patients Suffering from Medical Errors Face a Rigged System?

People suffering from pain, facing surgical procedures or delivering children regularly put their health and welfare into the hands of their treating physicians and other medical staff. When errors are made, the outcome can be life or death, and the spectrum in between can include injuries and conditions that drastically impact a person’s future. Faced with a life-altering injury after medical negligence, an injured patient would assume that they could get compensation with relative ease so that they can pay for the expenses associated with what happened to them. However, this assumption is not correct. According to a recent article, patents in Canada who suffer damages as a result of medical errors appear to be facing a system rigged against them. One that serves to protect medical professionals and hospitals more than the patients who suffer at their hands.

The Canadian Medical Protective Association

The CMPA is an organization designed to provide legal defence for doctors facing accusations of malpractice. While it is partly funded by fees paid directly by physicians, some may be surprised to know that it is largely funded by federal and provincial tax revenue. This means that the same people who will go up against the CMPA in court are paying for it to exist.

The current system means that patients who choose to pursue legal action against a doctor who has caused them harm face a years-long battle in court, against an entity they have partially helped to fund through their own tax dollars. Patient advocates say we need to change the system to better allow patients access to compensation, rather than making them fight it out in court at a time when they are particularly vulnerable.

Some say that the CMPA takes a “scorched-earth” approach to doctor defence, creating a situation where plaintiffs are so overwhelmed by the process, some have given up or even died before finding a resolution. The CMPA is well-funded and can afford to spend millions of dollars on defence rather than settling a claim, which can take a serious toll on injured patients and/or their families.

The CMPA has said that it provides assistance to doctors on a case-by-case basis, and also points out the fact that it spent $260 million on compensation to patients in 2018. However, this is of little comfort to those facing the CMPA in court.

Patient Advocates Petition for Change

Anne Levac, a patient of a Toronto back pain clinic, attended at the clinic in 2012 for injections purported to help with her pain. She received injections in her spine from needles that were later found to be tainted with a harmful bacterium called staphylococcus aureus. She soon began to feel intense pain and was rushed to the hospital. Since then, she has suffered permanent nerve damage resulting in memory loss, incontinence, and a severe reduction in motor skills. She has had to relearn had to write, and her husband is now her full-time caregiver.

The treating physician was found guilty of incompetence by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Levac then brought a civil claim against the doctor for damages to cover her expenses and medical supplies, however, after five years she was still awaiting resolution. Levac posited that the defence was waiting for her die rather than settle the matter.

A group of patient advocates, led by a retired nurse, created a petition to urge Ottawa to hold an inquiry to determine a fair system for handling medical errors that includes arbitration, mediation and a no-fault compensation board. They want to see the CMPA’s funding transferred to this new system, allowing patients to find relief much more quickly. This mirrors the systems in place in countries such as Denmark, where no-fault compensation is already in place for patients who suffer harm at the hands of their doctors.

At Sommers, Roth & Elmaleh, we have spent our careers seeking justice for families who have been wronged by medical errors. Often, these injuries are serious and require a lifetime of care, treatment and equipment to manage. We know that in pursuing litigation, our clients simply want to make up for what has been lost, and what will be required of them in the future. These families have been hurt by medical mistakes and will suffer the emotional and physical fallout forever. While negligent defendants cannot fully relieve the families of those burdens, they can pay for injured patients to live as normal a life as possible.

Our medical malpractice lawyers in Toronto have helped many families whose lives have been affected by complications caused by improper medical care, including obstetrical malpractice or hospital error. Contact Sommers, Roth & Elmaleh by phone at 416-961-1212 or online to schedule a free consultation.

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