News of the Day ... In Perspective9/15/2005
Trial lawyers stand to profit from disaster
Despite heroic efforts by doctors and nurses to save patients trapped in hospitals by Hurricane Katrina, trial lawyers are gearing up for battle. One of the first targets may be Tenet Healthcare Corp.
Because of Tenetís heroic efforts to rescue people, which included hiring a fleet of private helicopters, it probably will not be prosecuted criminally. But civil actions are likely. Some patients who died at Memorial Medical Center might have survived except for conditions inside the hospital.
Tenet had prepared to weather the storm by discharging as many patients as possible, stocking up on supplies, and calling in workers willing to stay through the storm. It had fuel for its emergency generators, which were above water level. Still, the electrical system eventually failed as flood waters rose. Tenet had not prepared for a breach in the levees.
Litigation may determine the extent to which hospital owners rebuild in disaster-prone areas. Juries will be asked to decide how much preparation hospitals must make for very unlikely contingencies, and when hospitals should risk lives to evacuate patients rather than attempt to ride out a storm that could pass with little lasting damage.
No clear case law exists for a hospital that failed to plan for circumstances as severe as with Hurricane Katrina.
Edward Richards, law professor at Louisiana State University, suggested that the state should not permit hospitals to operate in a region that canít be sustained during flooding (Dallas Morning News 9/15/05, see DallasNews.com).
Civil Defense Debacle, Civil Defense Perspectives, September 2005