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Tag: Criminal Law

Burden of Pain

BY JAY JOSHI

We’re seeing a trend of late, where matters in healthcare once deemed to be civil in nature are turning criminal. We see it for nearly every polarizing health issue, from abortion to opioids. And it’s affecting vulnerable patients the most.

We have two separate systems in place, civil and criminal, because we have different standards of behavior. Civil laws determine whether undue harm was caused by one party to another. Criminal laws determine whether someone committed a crime. The threshold is distinctly different. If someone is caught driving ten miles over the designated speed limit, that person committed a civil infraction of traffic laws. But if someone is caught speeding well in excess, say thirty or forty miles over the speed limit, while driving recklessly, that person committed a crime. The extent of the violation determines the applicable law. That’s why traffic laws have distinct civil and criminal laws.

The same logic applies to healthcare. We have civil penalties for undue harm or malpractice and we have criminal penalties for crimes that transpire in the clinical context. The difference between the two, for something to go from civil to criminal, is mens rea, or a requirement of criminal intent.

Criminal intent implies certain violations were committed deliberately – literally as an act of crime. Normal civil violations, such as malpractice claims, offer physicians protection against liability. That protection doesn’t apply for criminal violations. And that’s the point. It explains why the sudden push by regulators, prosecutor offices, and federal agents to investigate otherwise civil matters as criminal is so pernicious.

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