Preserving patient care through statutes of repose

Washington’s statute of repose on medical liability litigation is in question as the state’s Supreme Court tackles the constitutionality of how much time can pass before a lawsuit is no longer able to be filed.

Currently, lawsuits can be filed within a generous eight-year period, which strikes a balance between providing ample time for plaintiffs to file a claim and ensuring health care practitioners can avoid the continuing fear of litigation. A case before the court is calling the constitutionality this statute into question.

The eight-year time frame was agreed upon in 2006 by the Washington State Medical Association, the Washington State Hospital Association and Washington State Trial Lawyers Association coming together to work with lawmakers, the governor’s office, and the state insurance commissioner.

Now, the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies, together with the WSMA and WSHA, have filed an amicus brief in support of maintaining existing law.

“The legislature expressly balanced the interests of injured plaintiffs and the health care industry in 2006 to set an outer limit to the discovery rule and restore finality to potential liability for health care providers, while retaining judicially-created exceptions,” the brief says. “It protects the public interest by ensuring the availability of health services by balancing the competing interests, thus promoting the public welfare.”

The current statute of repose ensures that cases are brought to light while evidence is still fresh and accurate, promoting fairness during legal proceedings. Without it, increased costs that result from defensive medicine and higher insurance premiums would make health care less affordable and accessible.

To read more about how the timely resolution of liability lawsuits preserves patient care and protects physicians, click here.

Florida enacts procedural changes to liability lawsuits

A promising procedural change in Florida regarding the qualification of expert witnesses stands to reduce medical lawsuit abuse by allowing for proceedings to pause, or be appealed, if the witness does not meet the standards set by state law.

Previously, if the qualification of the expert witnessed was challenged, a defendant had to wait until the end of a trial to appeal a motion to dismiss litigation. Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court adjusted appellate procedure, allowing for an appeal prior to any decision.

Attorneys who work in insurance and medical liability defense support the change, highlighting how it could reduce costs for insurers and medical organizations who won’t have to wait until the end of a case before appealing. It would also give plaintiffs the opportunity to find a new qualified expert witness.

Remaining unchanged are the years of experience that each expert witness must have. Florida requires that a plaintiff’s expert witness must be a physician in the same specialty, with at least three years of experience, while general practitioners must have at least five years.

The change in procedure was supported by the American Medical Association, the Florida Hospital Association, and the Florida Medical Association, by way of an amicus brief.

Click here to read more about how this change can maintain high standards for expert witnesses in liability lawsuits and reduce the number of cases without merit.

Hazardous legal landscape resulting from ‘nuclear’ jury awards

A concerning trend is growing across the health care legal system, as the rise of nuclear verdicts is impacting the delivery and affordability of critical health care services.

This form of jackpot justice is increasing both the amount and frequency of multi-million-dollar jury awards. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) last year reported that the median verdict grew from $19.3 million in 2010 to $24.6 million in 2019 – a 27.5% increase.

Unfortunately, these sky-high verdicts are unlikely to benefit patients.

The ILR found that of the $443 billion in total tort costs in 2020, only 53 cents of each dollar actually went to plaintiffs.

Instead, these costs are driving up insurance premiums, leading to higher health care expenses for patients and their providers, and forcing the practice of defensive medicine.

Protect Patients Now supports comprehensive medical liability reform, which provides fair compensation for deserving patients while preserving access to quality medical care.

The prevalence of so-called nuclear verdicts across the medical liability system has raised valid concerns about their impact on health care costs, provider behavior, and public trust in the legal system to work in support of those who need it most.

It is critical that advocates raise the alarm on such abuse to protect patient access to care. To read more about the impact of these huge verdicts on our nation’s health care system, click here