Arizona Governor Vetoes Bill Making It More Difficult to Prove Malpractice Against Emergency Room Personnel

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, has vetoed a bill that would have raised the burden of proof in medical malpractice cases against emergency room personnel from a “preponderance of the evidence” (anything greater than 50%) to “clear and convincing proof,” which is the highest standard applied in civil cases (closely approaching the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”).

Those who supported the law argued that it was needed to stop the exodus of doctors, who fear malpractice lawsuits, from emergency rooms in the state. Specialists, like neurosurgeons, are especially reluctant to serve in emergency rooms.

Critics of the law, including the governor, saw it as being highly prejudicial to emergency room patients who are least able to defend themselves, potentially unconstitutional, and unsupported by any proof that it would actually help alleviate the emergency room doctor shortage.

Some Arizona Republicans saw the veto as catering to the trial lawyers while ignoring a serious problem in the state’s emergency rooms. There is now a real possibility that the Governor’s action could cause her to lose the support of the moderate Republicans who have helped her pass a number of spending measures and who would be necessary to approve funding for programs she has set as priorities during her administration.

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