Three Strikes Rule and License Suspension

Newsletter Type: Medical Malpractice

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What happens to doctors who commit medical malpractice over and over again? Can they keep their licenses? Is there any oversight of doctors who are sued multiple times?

The answers to these questions vary greatly depending on the state in which a physician is licensed. All states have licensing boards that are required to take action against incompetent physicians. Many states provide access to at least some of this information to consumers. However, because these boards are not linked from state to state, doctors who are disciplined in one state can usually move their practice to another state and avoid consequences of any disciplinary action against them.

In an effort to crack down on physicians who commit multiple acts of medical malpractice, an amendment to Florida's constitution provides for the suspension of licenses of doctors who commit medical malpractice three times. Under the constitutional amendment, physicians who lose three malpractice suits are subject to license suspension and/or removal.

It is estimated that seven percent of Florida's 33,000 physicians have had three or more malpractice claims filed against them. Few of these physicians would be subject to the "three strikes" rule because many malpractice cases are settled out of court before they reach a jury. These cases would not count as "strikes" against a physician because they did not result in a court judgment against the physician.

Proponents of the "three strikes" rule claim that the law will rid the state of Florida of incompetent physicians and reduce malpractice insurance by removing those physicians whose care results in the greatest number of verdicts from the insurance pools. Opponents of the rule claim that it will result in a flood of frivolous malpractice suits by attorneys who wish to settle immediately. Physicians afraid of getting a "strike" would be seeking to settle even frivolous claims.

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