State legislators tackle tort reform

April 1, 2004



In an effort to curb concerns regarding high medical malpractice insurance rates, state legislators are taking matters into their own hands. Here's a look at some of the legislative developments among states, as reported by the electronic newsletter American Health Line (2/20/04) (http://www.americanhealthline.com/):

• In Connecticut, a committee of the state legislature held a public hearing on a package of bills designed to reduce malpractice premiums in the state. One of the bills would establish an emergency fund to help physicians who cannot afford to pay malpractice insurance premiums.

• Kentucky legislators are considering a bill that would establish an independent, not-for-profit medical malpractice insurer and require private insurers to file rates with the state Department of Insurance. The bill would also require malpractice cases to be mediated before going to court, and would create screening panels to review malpractice claims and offer opinions to be admissible in court. This bill joins another under consideration—one that would create a constitutional amendment to cap noneconomic damages at $250,000.

• In Minnesota, a House committee approved a bill to cap noneconomic damages at $250,000 and punitive damages at $250,000 or two times the amount of economic damages, whichever is greater, in medical malpractice cases. The bill would also direct punitive damage awards away from injured patients and into a state-financed agency that provides health insurance to those who cannot obtain regular coverage.

• New Hampshire legislators held a public hearing on a bill that would establish three-member panels to review malpractice lawsuits and determine which cases should go to trial. The panels would consist of a retired or current judge, an attorney, and a physician. Unanimous decisions by the panels could be used as evidence in a trial.

• Although state representatives in South Carolina have already passed two tort reform bills, physicians there aren't satisfied. One of the house bills places a $300,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases, and the other places a $2 million cap on noneconomic damages in civil litigation cases. The physicians want state senators to strengthen the bills and to cut the $2 million cap in half.

• Responding to a law passed last year that allow health-care providers to refuse providing treatment to patients who do not sign arbitration agreements, members of the Utah Senate Business and Labor Standing Committee approved a bill that would allow patients to choose how they want to settle malpractice claims—whether it's through arbitration, mediation, or a lawsuit.

• The Washington State House passed more than a dozen tort reform bills. The bills would, among other things, limit damages for pain and suffering to the percentage of fault; reduce the statute of limitations to 6 years; require mediation and arbitration in malpractice lawsuits; forbid insurance companies to cancel or not renew malpractice coverage based on unproven malpractice claims; and protect retired medical professionals who want to their volunteer services from malpractice claims.