Ohio Case Could Shift Cost of Doctor Malpractice to Taxpayers

Ohio Supreme Court considering a case that may make taxpayers responsible for doctors' mistakes

Most doctors carry very large medical malpractice insurance policies, to cover lawsuits in the event they make a mistake on the job. However, a case that is before the Ohio Supreme Court could shift the cost of doctors' mistakes to the taxpayers of Ohio, in what could be millions of dollars drained from the state fund.

Local Ohioan, Keith Theobald, was left paralyzed after a driver caused a chain reaction crash on I-275 in Montgomery. However, the surgery he received the next day left him more than paralyzed. It left him blind.

Theobald sued his doctors, alleging that oxygen deprivation left him needing round the clock care. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that because the doctors had signed an agreement with the University of Cincinnati medical school that allowed students to observe as they operated, those doctors were technically "state employees" at the time of the surgery, which gives them immunity from lawsuits when they make mistakes.

Last month the court considered a new case, which could give up to 8,000 Ohio doctors the same immunity.

"It would be huge. It would have a very large, significant financial impact and be a drain on the general fund of the state of Ohio," said Attorney John Fisher.

In Fisher's client's case, he didn't even know the doctor had signed a volunteer agreement with the University of Toledo Medical School. The doctor's attorney, Susan Healy Zitterman, says even 'though the doctor is an unpaid volunteer, he deserves immunity too."

Zitterman told the justices, "Having thus been appointed by the university and acting in the course of his officially assigned duties at the time of the care and treatment here, he was an officer or employee as the statute is defined."

This could take the Supreme Court weeks or even months to make a decision that could potentially set budget draining precedent on the state of Ohio. In the meantime, if you are seen by a doctor in the state of Ohio, you should ask if they have any signed agreements with state medical schools. Additionally, if you are injured due to perceived malpractice, make sure your malpractice attorney files two lawsuits: one against your doctor and one against the state in the Court of Claims. That way, your case will be heard either way.