Lawyers: Patient safety lies in the hands of ...
August 20th, 2008

TUESDAY APRIL 8, 2008 :: Last modified: Tuesday, April 8, 2008 2:06 AM MDT
Lawyers: Patient safety lies in the hands of medical field

Star-Tribune staff writer

Patient safety should be left to physicians and nurses for the most part, said officials with the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association.

After attending the Wyoming Law Symposium on patient safety and health care reform last week, Casper attorney Todd Hambrick said he wasn't quite sure why the lawyers were invited to the conference.
Speakers at the conference discussed how the health care industry could change to make patients safer, including changing the culture of hospitals, making the reporting of adverse events voluntary and creating patient safety organizations.

However, some talked about how the legal system could change. Speakers mentioned protecting apologies, granting access to open and closed case files and creating health courts.

Marcia Shanor, executive director of the trial lawyers association, said Wyoming already protects apologies and collects closed-claim data through the state's insurance commission.

"We view the patient safety aspect as an effort more for health care," Shanor said.

She said the legal system is not set up or defined in a way it can be much help to improving patient safety.

Hambrick, who specializes in personal injury law, spoke at the conference from a lawyer's perspective. He said most of the reforms in Wyoming seem to be on the health care side when it comes to patient safety.

Wyoming doesn't have the problems other states do when it comes to the malpractice system, Hambrick said. The state does not need health courts or other alternative dispute resolution systems.

"I don't think we need these kinds of reform," Hambrick said. "The tort system works here."

Shanor said the trail lawyers association does not support a health court system.

There were only about 40 malpractice claims in the entire state last year while there were about 3,500 claims in Colorado.

"Why get a completely new system for such a small number of people?" Shanor said.

However, she added that it was important the lawyers were involved in some of the discussions surrounding patient safety, especially those involving alternative dispute resolution systems.

"These can have a pretty significant effect on the civil system," Shanor said. "We want lawyers to be involved in those discussions."

Contact health reporter Allison Rupp at (307) 266-0534 or