Archives: August 2012

News Flash: Doctors, Lawyers Work Together on Med-Mal Reform

It may not seem like big news, but if you’ve followed the long-running, stubborn and mostly dug-in debate over reforming medical malpractice in the U.S., you know that when doctors and lawyers issue a joint news release, something is really going on. (As Carey put it: “Talk about the lions lying down with the lambs!”) Formally, it’s called “Disclosure, Apology and Offer” and it’s a key provision of the new state health cost law. Massachusetts doctors and lawyers have agreed to work side by side on this less hostile (and potentially cost-saving) approach to dealing with medical errors and malpractice. It essentially boils down to disclosing mistakes, apologizing to the patient and family when appropriate and offering compensation as a way to avoid litigation when possible. From the Mass. Medical Association, Mass Bar Association and Mass. Academy of Trial Lawyers news release: An historic and unprecedented partnership between physicians and attorneys in Massachusetts has led to significant reforms to the medical liability system, allowing for improvements to resolving malpractice cases that both sides say could greatly benefit patients by reducing some unnecessary and protracted lawsuits while improving patient safety. The health care cost control bill recently passed by the Massachusetts…

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EDITORIAL: A start on malpractice

Republicans in the Oregon Legislature are getting their first look at what they won in exchange for their support for Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber’s health care transformation plan. It’s not the overhaul of rules for medical malpractice lawsuits the Republicans hoped for, but it’s significantly more than nothing. For a few tense days in February, it looked as though a dispute over malpractice would keep lawmakers from allowing Kitzhaber’s health care plan to move forward. Republicans, who with Democrats jointly control the House of representatives, wanted tough malpractice reforms, including a $570,000 cap on damages awarded in lawsuits against doctors and other health care providers. The Republicans were in a strong position. The state’s current budget is built on an expectation that the health care transformation will achieve significant savings. By withholding their support Republicans threatened to derail the central achievement of Kitzhaber’s current term while also throwing the budget out of balance, with consequences for state programs favored most strongly by Democrats. But in the end, the Republicans dropped their opposition. What they got in return was a promise by Kitzhaber to appoint a work group that would bring proposals for malpractice reform to the Legislature in 2013. The…

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State malpractice judgments at 10 year low

The number of Oklahoma malpractice judgments has come down sharply in the past two years and is at the lowest level of the decade, according to federal statistics. “It appears to me lawsuit reform is already delivering what it promised,” said Secretary of State Glenn Coffee, who as a state senator was one of the leaders of efforts to control rising medical costs by restraining malpractice suits. “I believe these positive signs will grow with time. This news will certainly help Oklahoma retain and recruit physicians.” Tort-reform opponents agree that the new legal environment is influencing the way attorneys do business but say that’s not a good thing. “Innocent people are being hurt by a law that was put in to help insurance companies using doctors as the bait and lawyers as the scapegoats,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. As a result, medically mangled Oklahomans are being barred from justice, said Morrissette, an attorney and a strident opponent of tort reform. Figures from the National Practitioner Data Bank – a congressionally established repository of malpractice records – show 114 malpractice payment reports in the state in 2011, down 28 percent from the level for 2009, the year Oklahoma lawmakers…

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Medical liability: Court strikes down noneconomic damages cap

The Supreme Court of Missouri has thrown out the state’s $350,000 noneconomic damages cap on medical lawsuits. After prior court decisions upholding the award limit, physicians said the ruling came as a surprising blow. “It’s extremely disappointing,” said Tim Holloway, executive vice president of the Missouri State Medical Assn. The association, along with the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and the State Medical Societies, had issued a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to uphold the cap. “We feel like the court ignored years and years of precedent. [The ruling] portends another lawsuit crisis.” The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by Deborah Watts against Lester E. Cox Medical Centers and medical center physicians. Watts claimed that negligence by hospital staff led to her son being born with disabling brain injuries. The center is part of the CoxHealth system. A jury awarded Watts $1.5 million in noneconomic damages and $3.4 million for future medical expenses. A court reduced the noneconomic damages award to $350,000 in accordance with the state’s statutory limit. Watts appealed, arguing that the cap was unconstitutional because it violated plaintiffs’ right to a trial by jury. In its July 31 opinion, the state high court said…

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August 2012 newsletter

Protect Patients Now Volume 7, Issue 8 August 2012 Newsletter E-Newsletter Special points of interest: Back to the Breaking Point in Missouri Better than OK: Liability Changes Successful in Oklahoma An Rx for Reform in Oregon Physicians, Attorneys Join Together to Pass Liability Reform in Massachusetts Back to the Breaking Point in Missouri The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of personal injury lawyers and against patients and physicians earlier this month when it struck down a 2005 law reforming the states’ medical liability system and placing reasonable limits on non-economic damages. The limits had been tested in court previously, and consistently upheld, until the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month. According to Missouri Medical Association President Stephen Slocum, MD, the ruling “turns back the clock to a time when a medical lawsuit crisis had pushed Missouri doctors to the breaking point.” Prior to 2005, physician shortages were common and access to critical care was sporadic throughout the state. Now, warns MSMA executive vice president Tim Holloway, medical lawsuit abuse and increases in costs and liability premiums are likely. Because of the patchwork of medical liability laws that vary from state to state, as well as the changing political climates that turn…

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