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Is Battered Women’s Syndrome an Inappropriate Diagnosis for Self Defense Claims by Women Who Kill Their Husbands?

18 Feb

Judy Norman shot and killed her husband, John Norman, while he was sleeping. After she was convicted of voluntary manslaughter at trial, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, citing as an error the trial court’s refusing to submit a potential verdict of acquittal on the basis of self-defense. How could it be self-defense if her husband was asleep?  The answer is simple, she couldn’t.  However, battered women’s syndrome is no longer recognized by the psychological community and may be an improper diagnosis for women who kill their husbands to utilize for as a defense.

State v. Norman is one of a series of cases involving the admissibility of expert witness testimony on battered women’s syndrome for a self-defense to homicide for women on trial for killing their husbands. Dr. Lenore Walker uses the term battered women’s syndrome to describe the similar characteristics victims of prolonged physical and psychological domestic abuse exhibit after battering cycles, which include a tension building stage, an acute battering incident, and then extreme remorse and loving behavior on the part of the battering male. Walker believes the women eventually become trapped by their fear, fearing even more brutal attacks if they leave, and eventually exhibit learned helplessness.

For a self defense claim, a defendant usually needs to face an imminent threat of death or severe bodily harm, but defense attorney’s have tried to argue that the prolonged threat victims of domestic abuse face is in some sense imminent, even if they are not currently being attacked. Click here to read more about cases using battered women’s syndrome and why using the diagnosis is often inappropriate both psychologically and legally


State of the Medical Malpractice Reform

2 Feb

I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down [Health Care] costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits. President Obama – 2011 State of the Union

The President shocked both Republicans and Patients Rights Advocates when he indicated that he would be willing to consider medical malpractice reform. Businesses, Doctors and Tort Reformers have been yelling about the “need” for Medical malpractice reform for years. Members of these groups often point to a recent study (PDF) conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health which found that 40% of malpractice filed claims lack evidence of medical error or actual patient injury. Despite this study many still take issue with the President’s depiction of medical malpractice as an out of control area that needs to be reined in. I will not discuss those arguments in this post. (See Tom Baker’s The Medical Malpractice Myth, for an examination of the academic literature on medical malpractice.)

Instead, I’d like to look at what Republican ideas the President might consider.  In the House there is currently a bill that intends to rein in those frivolous lawsuits, H.R. 5. The preamble of the bill says it is, “To improve patient access to health care services and provide improved medical care by reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the health care delivery system.”

Among other methods, the bill seeks to accomplish its goal by imposing a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages.

Noneconomic damages includes compensation for the pain an injured patient suffers because of a negligent hospital, doctor or other healthcare provider.  Noneconomic damages also compensates individuals for the lost company of a loved one or lifetime disfigurement.

To quote  Representative Linda Sanchez, “H.R 5 is a deplorable bill”.  Indeed, capping noneconomic damages is the most useless method for reducing frivolous lawsuits. Damages caps certainly cut down on total lawsuits, but only because the cap makes it financially infeasible for an attorney to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a person with no economic damages. No job. No lawyer. No lawsuit.

The fact is that an attorney cannot afford to take a case for someone with no income because their maximum award at trial is limited to $250,000. After expert witness fees, court costs and travel, a medical malpractice case can easily cost over $100,000 to get to trial. Leaving the plaintiff little to nothing after attorney’s fees.  And with damages capped, insurance companies have almost no incentive to settle.

Sadly, damages caps prevent lawsuits by those who are often the most vulnerable to injury from negligent health providers. Children, the elderly and disabled persons cannot secure representation when a law deems their case has a maximum value of $250,000.  We can see this happening in states that have already capped noneconomic damages.  Perhaps most notably are the tort reform measures taken in Texas–House Bill 4 and the accompanying Proposition 12. Since those measures passed in 2003 the number of medical malpractice lawsuits in Texas have dropped dramatically. But that drop has been at the expense of thousands of wrongfully injured patients who can no longer secure representation. (For further discussion on  HB4 see Mark Lanier‘s interview covering the fallout).

Without a doubt, H.B. 5 is not a solution for reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits. A cap on noneconomic damages does nothing more than arbitrarily reduce the total amount of lawsuits. This reduction is done by creating categories of individuals who get shut of the courthouse doors.

Law & Mind Blogs: Part 3

1 Feb

Everyday Sociology:  “What if sociologists ran the world?”, begins the “About this Site” section of the Everyday Sociology blog.  The description could not be more on point. The blog is a compilation of a wide-variety of commentary from sociologists across the United States about what is going on in the news, or “what should be in the news.”  The site truly does provide an entertaining point of view on current events.  The writing is informed, funny, and current.    The authors truly do put a unique spin on a variety of different topics.  For example, in Social Theory and Siblings, Sally Raskoff commented on a recent NPR story that included three theories on why siblings can be so different (i.e., a Darwinian Theory, an Exaggeration Theory, and an Environmental Approach).   She explained the theories with ease and cited other relevant examples of the theories to display how one can use theories to explain specific phenomenon.

Other posts are less academic, and are instead stories of the personal experiences and viewpoints of the authors.  For example, When Our Baby Was Born, outlined in very personal detail. Tod Schoepflin’s expectations and experience during and after his wife’s childbirth.  In Culture and Parties, Janis Prince compared the questions she was asked at holiday cocktail parties depending on the culture of the people with whom she was mingling.

Some posts also apply this sociological analysis to recent laws. There Oughta Be a Law? Formal and Informal Social Control, explores a recent law in San Fransisco banning the sale of toys with unhealthy children’s food through the formal social control theory.  She also believes the ban is an example of a symbolic law, designed for their ability to send a message even if they are not enforced.

This blog may be more fun than formal and more relaxed than theoretical, but I really enjoyed reading the posts and would definitely recommend skimming through.

Click here to read about deception, deliberations, developing intelligence, context discoveries, and free associations in the blogosphere

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