White House open to medical liability changes Tort reform backers welcome sentiment, hope for substance

Business Insurance
Sunday, January 30, 2011

President Barack Obama's openness to some types of medical liability reform is drawing mixed reviews from people on both sides of the issue.
A consumer advocate criticized the president's comments for the message they send to victims of medical malpractice.
“There are very rarely frivolous lawsuits,” said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy in New York. By using such language regarding medical malpractice, the president “really upset medical malpractice victims whose lives have been devastated and who seek justice in the court,” she said.
“Medical malpractice errors are an enormous problem in this country and I think everyone would agree that the best way to reduce injuries and deaths and claims and lawsuits is to make hospitals safer,” Ms. Doroshow said.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of congressmen introduced the bill that takes a quite different approach to medical malpractice issues.
Instead of targeting frivolous lawsuits, H.R. 5 would cap punitive damages, where permitted, at $250,000 or twice the economic damages in medical malpractice awards, whichever is greater. Noneconomic damages would be capped at $250,000.
The measure also would limit attorney contingent fees in medical malpractice cases, on a sliding scale, to a maximum of 40% on the first $50,000 to 15% on awards of more than $600,000.
But proponents and opponents of medical malpractice liability reform say the measure is unlikely to become law.
“We think it will pass the House, but when we get to the Senate it's very likely we'll have the same issues we had before due to the Democrats not voting for tort reform,” said the PIAA's Mr. Smarr. Nevertheless, he does not consider the bill “an exercise in futility.” Instead, he said the measure “clearly demonstrates” the House leadership's commitment to reform.
AIA supports the legislation, said Ms. Shelk. “This has been the template we've supported in states,” she said, adding that “we'll work to get it through the House. We're going to certainly face a tough road in the Senate.”
Even when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, proposals capping damages garnered insufficient votes in the Senate, Mr. Schwartz said.
“It's extremely difficult to get caps through the Senate,” he said, adding that it also would be very difficult to integrate federal caps with existing state caps.
Ms. Doroshow agreed that the measure has no future in the Senate.
“From what I can gather, the Senate has no real interest in doing anything like that,” she said. “It may pass the House, but I don't see it going anywhere in its current form in the Senate.”
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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