Last month we talked about something I called the biggest decision in healthcare that nobody was paying attention to. I was referring to the July, 2011 court decision requiring Tenet Health to pay $25 million to those patients and civilians who took shelter at Memorial Health Center and died or suffered injury during Hurricane Katrina. The court ruled that Tenet failed to establish an evacuation plan and that by poor design, the backup power system was vulnerable to flooding. See Mitigation Journal "Message from Katrina" part one and part two to hear me, Jamie Davis (MedicCast) and Matt discuss this on the podcast.
This month I want to tell you about a similar situation, this time from Italy.
Six Italian seismologists are being brought up on manslaughter charges for failing to predict a deadly earthquake. Yes, your read that correctly...for failing to predict an earthquake. According to MSNBC, the Italian seismologists are specifically accused of failing to warn the public "aggressively enough" ahead of the 2009 earthquake that killed 300 people.
This will be an interesting situation that should may have implications for disaster and emergency management here in the United States. This Italian case combined with the recent Tenet Health decision is ought to be enough to give anyone working in emergency preparedness a moment of pause.
How far can the legal ramifications of prediction (or failing to predict) a situation go?
If the situation were reversed; a prediction with "aggressive warning" that resulted in evacuations (and injury/deaths from that evacuation) that turned out to be a false alarm - would that also be grounds for indictment?
What level of warning is appropriate or "aggressive enough" and how do we gauge the severity of a predicted situation to warn appropriately?
What are the implications for those who study and predict natural phenomena? To break this down even further, will epidemiologists be held accountable when the flu vaccine is poorly matched to the flu strain that actually shows up?
This could be another influential decision in domestic preparedness that nobody is paying attention to. Nobody but us anyway.