Lawmakers ask about Bar lawyer regulation system Lawmakers ask about Bar lawyer regulation system Senior EditorAfter a day debunking many of the claims made about medical malpractice, a Florida Senate committee questioned Florida Bar President Miles McGrane about Bar prosecutions for frivolous lawsuits and the Bar grievance process generally.McGrane was one of about 20 people invited to give sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 14-15 during the second legislative special session on medical malpractice.The Senate has been under fire from Gov. Jeb Bush and the House for refusing to agree to a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. But senators said they had been getting conflicting information, so the upper chamber took the unusual step of inviting witnesses to the Judiciary Committee, and then putting them under oath. That makes them liable to a perjury charge if they lie.McGrane testified after the committee had quizzed state employees involved in regulating insurance companies and the medical profession. They testified that the state largely relies on information from insurance companies and their accountants on the number of claims made and other actuarial information. Other employees testified that although claims have been made that high malpractice rates are driving doctors out of the state, there are more doctors in Florida than five years ago, and the number of doctors applying to practice in Florida is increasing.Witnesses also said, contrary to much of the talk about medical malpractice, that there is no flood of frivolous malpractice suits driving up rates.Against that backdrop, committee Chair Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, asked McGrane for general information about the Bar’s grievance process and specifically how many cases had been investigated for filing frivolous malpractice suits.McGrane replied that there had been three malpractice related investigations. One was referred by a judge who ruled a defense lawyer did a filing without reasonable investigation. That case was dropped when an appellate court overturned the judge.On the other two cases, a lawyer sued the wrong doctor who had the identical name as the intended defendant, and a lawyer sued the wrong partner in a P.A., he said.In recent years, the Bar has averaged about 9,000 complaints a year involving 4,500 to 5,000 lawyers, McGrane reported. Total disciplines have ranged from 391 to 472, including between 20 and 38 annual disbarments. Other disciplines include suspensions, reprimands, voluntary resignations, and probations. The numbers do not include those who opt to attend the Bar’s ethics school in lieu of facing a minor misconduct charge.Asked by Sen. Durrell Peadon, R-Crestview, how the Bar process worked, McGrane answered that local grievance committees, made up of lawyers and nonlawyers, investigate complaints. If a committee finds probable cause, then a referee holds a hearing and makes a recommendation. That is reviewed by the Bar Board of Governors, which decides whether to agree to make a different recommendation when the case goes to the Supreme Court, which has final authority over all grievance cases, he said.Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-West Palm Beach, asked about cases under F.S. 57.105, which allows judges to award the opposing side attorneys’ fees in costs when an attorney brings a frivolous action. McGrane replied that rarely happens. He also noted that some had suggested a provision that an attorney who brings three frivolous actions within five years be barred from filing medical malpractice, and added he doubts that will ever happen.Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, a former member of the Bar Board of Governors, spent much of the meeting asking tough questions of insurance and medical representatives. He asked McGrane about lawyer advertising, saying, “I think the doctors have a legitimate gripe about that.”McGrane said the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s ruled that lawyers have a right to advertise, but that The Florida Bar has enacted — and has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — the toughest regulations of any state bar.“Personally, I find it repulsive, repugnant, whatever word you want to use. But as president of The Florida Bar, I have to enforce the rules on what the courts will let us do,” he said.Ironically, no one asked McGrane about his personal practice, which is largely made up of defending doctors in medical malpractice cases.Questioning of McGrane was mild compared to some witnesses. Robert White, president of First Professionals Insurance, the state’s largest medical malpractice insurance company, and Jeff Scott, an attorney with the Florida Medical Association, conceded there was no problem with frivolous lawsuits, or even that there is a large number of them. White said past legislation had fixed that problem, but added bad faith laws make it difficult for insurance companies.That was contrary to much of the rhetoric earlier this year, when frivolous lawsuits were frequently blamed for skyrocketing medical malpractice rates. White also estimated that 10 percent of rate hikes were caused by low interest rates on investments and other economic factors, not related to lawsuits. August 1, 2003 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News
Three USC professors have found a way to combat deadly bacteria through a computer-simulated study.The study was conducted using computer simulations. Photo from Viterbi School of Engineering.USC professors Priya Vashishta from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering; Rajiv Kalia from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; and Aiichiro Nakano from Viterbi, were hired in 2002 by President C. L. Max Nikias to conduct the study.“We were hired jointly in three separate departments,” Vashishta said. “The idea was to establish a group who would do simulations using computers. You need all three of those departments for this kind of study.”Simulations have become an increasingly common research method. Conducting research on a computer lessens the cost of materials and shortens a lengthy, repetitive trial process, Vashishta said.The professors, along with Aravind Krishnamoorthy, a Viterbi postdoctoral fellow, used simulations to find the optimal conditions for killing the bacteria, even with the presence of spores, which are a protective mechanism developed by bacteria to allow bacteria to withstand most harm.“Once they go to the dormant state, nothing [can] kill them,” Nakano said. “No radiation, no chemicals — they survive. it’s extremely hard to kill in this dormant state of the spore. Basically the simulation found how much heat and how much water content is needed to make it easy to kill the bacteria.”The study is rooted in the concept that a certain amount of water and heat cause bacteria to germinate before detecting conditions are harmful and entering spore mode, which makes bacteria impossible to kill.“You allow it to germinate but not to go into full spore mode,” Vashista said. “So if you just barely germinate, you’ll be able to kill it. At that point of wet heat, we will kill [them], and that is the simulation.”The computer simulation revealed that the bacteria can be killed at the optimal temperature of 90 to 95 degrees Celsius with a water concentration above 30 percent, according to Vashista.Once the bacteria is in the right environment, they are killed with black silicon nanopillars, which Nakano described as similar to a “bed of nails.”The research project was funded by a grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, who’s looking for ways to combat bacteria as a biological weapon.“The funding comes from the DTRA, as they are primarily interested in find out how and when these bacterial spores die,” Krishnamoorthy said. “It’s important because if you’re trying to disinfect something with the presence of this bacteria, you have to be sure that these bacterial spores die. They want to know what are the conditions in which these things die, because if you don’t kill them completely, they can come back.”Krishnamoorthy said the study will have real-life applications. It can be used to counter biological weapons, lessen the spread of bacterial diseases and provide breakthroughs in food preservation.