Liability Reform Builds Momentum in Iowa

With support from the governor and a favorable legislative climate, momentum for medical liability reform is building in Iowa — a state facing threats to patient access to care.

The Iowa Medical Society is capitalizing on the current environment, highlighting the importance of collaboration among the physician community and dedicating an entire issue of its recent newsletter to these critical issues and the need for improved patient access to care.

With big-town personal injury attorneys exploiting Iowa’s rural communities, recent non-economic damages for just six cases totaled $107 million — putting the state’s medical liability system in crisis and threatening physician recruitment.

Iowa has no hard cap on non-economic damages. In contrast, four of the six bordering states have enacted such limits and stand to benefit from a physician exodus from Iowa unless the legislature takes action.

“As we look around the state, our rural hospitals are struggling. One of the ways to try to recruit and keep doctors is to make sure they’re in a liability situation that’s comparable to other states,” said Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver. “We’re not trying to do anything that is outside that norm. We’re trying to compete with the states around us.”

Steven Churchill, CEO of the Iowa Medical Society and former state legislator, understands how recent elections have turned the tide on the possibility of liability reform — and the risks of not capitalizing on it. 

“…We are more optimistic than ever for the opportunity to pass a bill through both chambers that supports physicians and the communities they serve,” Churchill said.

“This risk isn’t just affecting the future generations of physicians,” he said. “Actively practicing physicians from across the state have reached out to share their concerns for their ability to continue to practice in Iowa.”

To read a range of perspectives from Iowa advocates for liability reform in the IMS’ most recent newsletter, click here.

Pennsylvania Ruling Stands to Infringe on Physicians’ Attorney Choice

In an already specialized and limited field, Pennsylvania physicians may be further limited in attorney representation if the state’s supreme court allows a lower court ruling on physician-defendants to stand.

The issue stems from an appeals court ruling that interpreted a statute related to procedural discovery to require that different law firms represent a non-party treating physician and a defendant treating physician.

The Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies and the Pennsylvania Medical Society filed an amicus brief in the case, stating that the current ruling “upends physicians’ ability to have the lawyer of their choice at their side when their livelihood and professional reputations are at stake. The Court should allow appeal to stop the widespread, potentially deleterious effects of the Superior Court’s precedential decision.”

The ruling sets a precedent for “absurd results,” physicians tell the court, noting that patients often encounter multiple medical professionals, even in simple medical care.

The amicus brief highlights five areas of importance around maintaining a physician’s ability to choose their own legal representation, most notably since “medical liability litigation is a specialized field with specialized substantive and procedural rules, along with specialized attorneys.”

Click here to read more about the risks of this ruling to physicians defending themselves against medical liability lawsuits.

New York Governor Exacerbating inequity in Liability System

An opinion piece in The Buffalo News draws attention to the harmful effects that New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s position on liability legislation would have on underserved communities across the state.

S74A, the Grieving Families Act, would significantly alter New York’s wrongful death statutes – without providing benefits to the families who need them most.

A recent non-partisan evaluation of the bill found it could increase the already sky-high liability costs in the state by as much as 40 percent.

The author of the op-ed, Samuel Flemister, MD, is president of the New York State Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons (NYSOS) and a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon. He writes that the issue with the bill is less about costs and more about “the impact that these already high costs have on patient care.”

“Given the fragility of the health care system post-Covid, the governor risks hospital, emergency room, primary care and urgent care closures if she signs this bill, which likely will disproportionately impact already underserved communities and thus compromise the social equity the bill’s proponents seek to achieve.”

Dr. Fleminster highlights the long-standing NYSSOS position on comprehensive liability reform and the belief that such legislation should be developed to improve “health care access, quality, and efficiency, while also fairly compensating negligently injured patients.”

To read Dr. Fleminster’s opinion piece in full, click here.