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Bill Seeks to Exempt Arizona Medical Students From Malpractice Suits

The Arizona State Senate recently passed a bill that exempts medical school students from medical malpractice. The bill is designed to address a small but increasing number of cases in which medical students are being named as defendants in medical malpractice cases. Lawmakers are concerned that, although there are few cases, the practice of adding medical students as defendants in litigation could become rampant.

Supporting Arguments

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, supporters argue that the medical students are only learning the profession and should not be held legally liable. Furthermore, the duty doctor-patient relationship lies with supervisors, not the students. Therefore, supporters suggest, there is no reason medical students should be involved in litigation because their supervisors are ultimately liable for their actions. Nonetheless, students and the medical institutions training them have been named in a few cases. Even cases that are eventually thrown out still must be defended to a point, and this costs medical schools money and diverts money from the classroom. This has also led to legislation seeking to increase burden of proof in malpractice cases to clear and convincing evidence, which is much more difficult for plaintiffs to accomplish.

Objections to the Bill

Opponents of the measure originally objected that it would leave patients unprotected in cases in which parties are injured by the negligence of medical students. The bill, in its original form, did not address who would be responsible for a medical student's errors. Concerns were also raised that doctors could assign duties to medical students for which they were not qualified, and that patients would have no recourse when this happens.

This problem was corrected in a subsequent amendment to the bill that specified that there is liability to a patient for a medical student's errors, and the person liable is the supervising doctor, not the student. With this amendment, the bill was passed by the state senate by a vote of 28-1. It still must be approved by two committees of the Arizona House of Representatives before further action can be taken on it by the entire house. The bill would then be forwarded to the governor for approval and signature.