Patients, providers on different sides of malpractice law

Patients, providers on different sides of malpractice law


In 2019, Walter Duenas’ son Robert was flown from Guam to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, due to an infection after a stomach operation on island.

As an infant, Robert had to have surgery to put a stoma on his belly, and he has had to have a series of surgeries throughout his life. 

After the 2019 procedure, Robert’s stoma became so prolapsed that his large intestine began to protrude through his abdominal wall, Duenas said. 

The boy was taken to Hawaii, but the problem was so severe that Robert’s large intestine could not be saved. Because he only has a small intestine, Robert loses large amounts of weight, Duenas said.

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Later, Duenas decided that he wanted to bring a claim of medical malpractice against the doctor who treated his son, but he learned that under Guam law he would be required to go through legal arbitration before filing in court. Once he found out how much arbitration costs, he became discouraged and did not pursue his claim. 

Bill 112, introduced by Speaker Therese Terlaje, would remove the arbitration requirement and instate a process where magistrate judges could handle and review malpractice claims. According to Terlaje’s bill, the costs of arbitration are prohibitive for many residents. 

Walter Duenas at his residence in Dededo on June 14, 2021.

But many health care providers do not support the bill, saying it would result in reduced services for patients and cause more people to have to seek care off-island.

The mandatory arbitration law, enacted in 1991, replaced a 1975 law that also called for mandatory arbitration. The earlier law stated that “higher judgments, settlements and the filing of suits are increasing the costs of malpractice insurance and making it unavailable altogether.” 

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