Virginia Supreme Court to Reconsider Malpractice Immunity for Charitable Doctors


If a doctor is doing charitable work for the poor, it seems reasonable that he or she should be exempt from medical malpractice suits, or at least some portion of it. After all, the doctors are giving free or inexpensive medical care to those who would otherwise be unable to obtain it. And the doctors are making a personal sacrifice, when they could be making very good money in private practice. This very issue is at stake in a Virginia Supreme Court case that is to be heard this spring.

If the court decides on immunity for charitable doctors, tax-exempt physicians’ foundations in Virginia, which employ about 1200 doctors and provide support for three major medical schools in the state. The problem is that these tax-exempt foundations may be anything but charitable. According to arguments by lawyers representing three plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits, including one birth injury suit, the so-called charitable institutions are actually highly profitable ventures. For example, one of the Foundations generates about $215 million a year in revenue, but expends only 1 percent of its costs in doing charitable work. In addition, it employs over 200 people in its billing office and aggressively seeks judgments for nonpayment against patients. Finally, the doctors do not seem to be making any personal sacrifice in providing this care, as one of the doctors earned $850,000 in bonuses (above and beyond salary) in 2005. This certainly does not sound like charity in any sense of the word I know.

In their defense, the foundations argued that profitability is the only way they can promise to provide medical care to anyone walks in the door. Bonuses are seen as the only way the foundations can attract and retain qualified doctors to provide instruction at the schools.

It seems then, that if the best doctors are being attracted, they should not need immunity from malpractice lawsuits. In addition, with only 1 percent of their expenses going toward charitable care, they have plenty of room to afford taking responsibility for when that charitable care may go awry. Finally, the threat of medical malpractice suits seems the only way to ensure that the foundations are not exposing the poor to surgical error and calling it charity.

If you or someone you love has suffered as a result of medical malpractice, contact today to get in touch with a local personal injury lawyer who will take up your case, no matter what the scenario under which you suffered.