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Legal Immunity

Last Friday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius signed a document that provides vaccine makers immunity when they produce swine flu vaccine.

Since vaccines are “well known” (wink, wink) to cause such physical maladies as autismneurologic disorders, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and seizure disorders, a federal law provides legal immunity for manufacturers that produce the vaccines. Instead of going through the court system, there is a fund called the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program that is set up to compensate those who have been injured by vaccines.

Many vaccines have a low profit margin. In addition, most vaccines have only one or two manufacturers. If you were a vaccine manufacturer and knew that you could potentially spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars defending and paying out on one class action lawsuit about a vaccine you produced, would you continue to make the vaccines?

By immunizing manufacturers from liability for producing vaccines, the public policy argument is that the public benefits vaccines produce far outweigh the potential public detriment to the point that the government wants to encourage manufacturers to make vaccines.

Several of the attorneys that frequent this blog have stated that legal immunity for physicians is the equivalent of a “license to kill” but they are also quick to defend legal immunity for judges in performance of their duties.

So based on the above, I have two questions related to this immunity topic:

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  1. I am an ER physician 2 years out of residency. I was sued as a 2nd year resident on a patient that I admitted for fever/pneumonia that had a foley catheter placed after admission which damaged his artificial urethral sphincter. I had nothing to do with that placement, but because my name was on the chart I was named in the lawsuit. It took me 2 years to get dropped from that suit, all while I was trying to get my medical license in another state and apply for jobs. Even though I was dropped I still have to report this on every single application, license renewal, etc for the rest of my career. I have a black mark on my record even though I had nothing to do with the injury.

    I can tell you that more than half of what I order on a day-to-day basis in the ER is completely to protect myself from lawsuits; the 1 in a million chance that this 20 year old is having a heart attack with their chest pain.

    Tell me about the standard of care in an ER when 5 critically ill patients present within a 10min period in an ER after a major highway accident when you work in a 6 bed ER with 1 nurse and 1 tech. The ER doc is not given any slack depending on how busy / overwhelmed he is. He is treated as if each patient was the only one in the ER. I read somewhere that the average ER physician is interrupted approximately once every 2 minutes during his shift. It’s a hectic environment, hardly comparable to an office where everything is scheduled, or to the OR where you’re only dealing with one patient.

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