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Mixed feelings about medical malpractice legislation in NJ

Individuals in New Jersey may want to be aware of legislation that, while not passed in the final legislative session, still has strong support from volunteer doctors. The hotly debated legislation would protect doctors from medical malpractice lawsuits. However, the only doctors who would be shielded are those who volunteer and give free medical care to people who cannot otherwise afford it.

The two bills in question were brought forth in an effort to encourage doctors to provide medical care to the needy. While a seemingly good idea, the legislation has its opponents, too.

Many of the people who oppose the bills are lawyers who believe the legislation would do an injustice to people who are struggling financially. The worry is that New Jersey doctors, if they aren't held accountable by medical malpractice laws, may end up providing adequate care to paying patients and inadequate care to non-paying patients. Critics of the legislation also say that it encourages a two-tiered society in which only financially stable people can hold doctors accountable for errors.

This legislation would not, however, shield doctors involved in cases of "willful misconduct" or "gross negligence."

Supporters press a number of arguments, including the fact that, as it is now, very few doctors volunteer. The supporters believe that granting volunteer doctors civil immunity may increase the number of medical professionals who are willing to donate their time and skills.

Those in support of the legislation also argue that retired doctors could spend their time volunteering without the burden of malpractice insurance.

It is easy to see both sides of this argument. While the legislation did not pass this session, there is always the possibility that with a few tweaks, it will be proposed again. New Jersey residents who have medical malpractice concerns will want to be aware of any changes to the law and how they might affect a medical malpractice claim.

Source: njspotlight.com, "Malpractice Exemption Pits Lawyers Against Volunteer Doctors," Beth Fitzgerald, June 25, 2012

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