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Courts rule on uninsured physicians

New York patients may want to pay heed to a New Jersey Supreme Court case involving a physician who had no medical malpractice insurance. On Sept. 29, a 5-2 split decision decreed that practitioners lacking malpractice insurance to any degree are not to be disciplined by the courts, but by the state's medical board instead. However, if the medical facility employing the insured physician failed to conduct an appropriate amount of due diligence before making the hire, it may be held liable.

This particular case involved an injured patient suing an anesthesiologist who committed an error in a spinal fusion procedure during 2005. The patient returned a year later in worse pain than before, and eventually discovered that the physician inserted the screws improperly. In addition, the physician was only insured for anesthesiology, but not for conducting the actual surgery.

The injured patient filed a lawsuit claiming medical negligence against the board-certified anesthesiologist and the Saddle Brook medical center. The plaintiff also claimed negligence and misrepresentation because the physician did not possess medical malpractice insurance. The court ruled that only the medical negligence claim was actionable, since the physician's policy explicitly excluded spinal surgery coverage. The physician was found liable for medical negligence and the plaintiff received $750,000 in damages.

A person who has been the victim of a doctor error may want to speak with a medical malpractice attorney to determine to proceed. By a review of the patient's hospital records and through consultations with medical experts, the attorney may determine that the doctor's actions violated the duty of care owed to the patient and that the practitioner should be held financially responsible for the patient's damages.

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