February 9, 2013

As drafted, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s well-intentioned “Patient Protection Act,” which would set specific nurse-to-patient ratios for hospitals operating in the city [“District to weigh boosting nurse staffs,” Metro, Feb. 5], invites presumably unintended consequences that could significantly increase health-care costs and decrease access to care.

Under the bill, hospitals in violation of staffing requirements will face civil penalties of up to $25,000 a day, regardless of whether any patient suffers a resulting injury. But it doesn’t limit civil enforcement to the D.C. attorney general. As a result, entrepreneurial personal-injury lawyers could file costly lawsuits, as they did in California three years ago. There, personal-injury lawyers won a jaw-dropping $677 million class-action verdict against an operator of 22 assisted-care facilities across the state, not to compensate any injured persons but simply because records showed occasional dips below mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.

Regulators should enforce their rules, but private litigation can drive providers out of business and leave patients and insurers with higher bills. To be certain that his bill serves the public interest and not the interests of personal injury lawyers, Mr. Mendelson and the council should embrace an amendment that leaves enforcement in the hands of public authorities.

Tiger Joyce, Washington

The writer is president of the American Tort Reform Association.