Iowa Senate Advances Bill To Discourage Med Mal Suits

By Law360 Iowa, National, News Source

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  • March 21, 2017

The Iowa Senate on Monday approved a tort reform bill that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $250,000 and require injured patients to obtain a “certificate of merit” from a medical expert before filing suit.

S.F. 465 passed the Iowa Legislature’s upper house in a 28-21 vote that was split along party lines, with 28 Republicans voting to approve the proposed legislation and 20 Democrats and one independent senator voting no. If approved, the bill would impose a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, similar to a federal bill recently floated by Republicans in Congress.

In addition, the bill would require medical malpractice plaintiffs to file a certificate of merit — essentially an expert opinion vouching for the validity of the claims — which is designed to weed out and discourage frivolous lawsuits.

The bill would also make certain statements made by doctors to patients regarding adverse medical incidents inadmissible in court, and would tighten the requirements as to who can qualify as an expert medical witness.

During floor debate on Monday, a Republican proponent of the bill, state Sen. Charles Schneider of West Des Moines, said that the proposed legislation would help improve the state’s shortage of doctors, who he said are driven away by Iowa’s unfavorable medical liability environment.

“We have a lot of trouble attracting and retaining physicians, we all know this,” he said. “Clearly we need to make our malpractice climate more attractive and more inviting. This bill is an effort to improve our malpractice climate by doing some things that a lot of other states have already done and in some cases have been doing for decades.”

The Iowa Association for Justice lambasted the bill’s advancement on Monday, saying that it threatens patient safety since preventable medical errors are the nation’s third leading cause of death.

“This bill will reduce accountability for doctors and hospitals that refuse to follow even the minimum standard of care,” the group said in a statement. “This bill creates an arbitrary, government-mandated, one-size-fits-all cap on the value of life, it bars available experts from testifying on the victim’s behalf and it increases the cost of litigation.”

Late last month, a U.S. House committee advanced H.R. 1215, a tort reform bill that would put a nationwide cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases arising out of federally funded health care and would limit the fees plaintiffs attorneys can receive for winning such suits.