In our last post, we began speaking about protections at both the state and federal level which shield volunteer physicians from liability in the event of a mistake that injures a patient. We’ve already mentioned the Federal Volunteer Protection Act, the Federal Tort Claims Act, and Michigan’s Good Samaritan Law.
In addition, Michigan has a statute which protects licensed health care providers providing free serves at nonprofit clinics, and another statute specific to retired physicians and dentists. The latter protections are dependent on obtaining a special license.
The bottom line is that there is a great deal of protection in place for physicians who choose to volunteer their time. Because of this, medical malpractice litigation against volunteer physicians is not a big area of practice. That being said, it is important for those who have been seriously harmed by a volunteer physician to consult an experienced attorney to have their case evaluated. There are a several reasons for this.
First of all, consulting an experienced attorney will allow an injured patient to cover their bases in making sure that liability does not attach. As we noted in speaking of the various laws in this series, there are certain conditions that must be met in order for immunity to apply. If those conditions are not met for one reason or another, there may be a possibility of pursuing damages.
Second of all, even when an individual volunteer physician or health care worker may not be held liable for damages in a case, this does not mean that the organization hosting that provider’s services may not be held liable.
Thirdly, even if there is not possibility of pursuing damages in one of these cases, an experienced attorney can at least help make sure that an injured patient does everything in her power to seek some sort of accountability from the physician and/or organization.
Medical Economics, “Volunteering: The benefits and risks for physicians,” Susan Kreimer, Sept. 3, 2015.
Free Clinics of Michigan, “Liability Coverage,” Accessed Sept. 23, 2015.