Liability Reform Brings Help to the Hawkeye State

By Iowa Medical Society Iowa, News Source

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  • May 30, 2017

Friday morning, Governor Branstad signed SF 465 — the IMS-crafted tort reform legislation. This legislation marks the culmination of decades of work by countless physicians throughout our state. “Today’s historic achievement is a victory for every physician, resident, and medical student in the state of Iowa. This success would not have been possible without the tireless work of so many individuals to give the house of medicine a strong voice in the legislative process. I am delighted to begin my tenure as President of the Iowa Medical Society with enactment of these sweeping reforms.” said newly-installed IMS President Joyce Vista-Wayne, MD, DFAPA. SF 465, which will take effect July 1, 2017, enacts the following reforms:

  • A $250,000 Cap on Noneconomic Damages, With Some Exceptions
  • Strengthened Expert Witness Standards
  • A Certificate of Merit in all Medical Liability Suits
  • Expanded Candor Protections

A Brief History of These Reforms in Iowa

Cap on Noneconomic Damages
In 1975, California became the first state in the nation to enact a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages. Shortly thereafter, IMS made its first attempt at enacting a similar cap here in Iowa. After nearly three decades of work, IMS championed the passage of a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in 2004, which was ultimately vetoed by then-Governor Vilsack. This was the last year either chamber of the legislature was able to passage a cap, until this session.

 Strengthened Expert Witness Standards
In response to a growing number of unscrupulous individuals serving as expert witnesses in medical liability suits, in 1986 IMS successfully enacted Iowa’s first statewide standards governing the qualifications of individuals serving as an expert witness in a liability suit against a physician. These standards allowed for significant judicial discretion in assessing an individual’s qualifications and have not been updated in more than 30 years.

Certificate of Merit
In the 1980’s, IMS began investigating this reform, which requires the filing of an affidavit at or near the start of a medical liability suit to prove that the case has merit. In 1988, the IMS House of Delegates adopted IMS policy E-435.009, which called for legislation to enact a Certificate of Merit requirement in Iowa. Despite multiple attempts to secure passage, it was not until 2011 that IMS was able to secure passage of this reform in the Iowa House. Unfortunately, this reform failed to pass the Democratically-controlled Iowa Senate.

Candor
Following the 2013 Legislative Session, the IMS Board of Directors appointed an ad hoc Tort Reform Task Force charged with identifying short-term and long-term strategies for success on medical liability reform. The task force’s recommendations, contained in the McCoy Report, brought forward new reform options, including a reform known as Communication and Resolution or Candor. In 2015, IMS secured unanimous passage of legislation to legally protect these voluntary conversations and Iowa became a national leader as just the third state to pursue this innovative early disclosure reform.