In this edition of Tort Reform Roundup, we look at a pair of states considering some major tort reform initiatives. In Kentucky, a sweeping measure aimed at capping attorney fees on medical malpractice damages, has passed the State Senate Health & Welfare Committee and now awaits a vote in the Senate. Meanwhile, the state of Missouri is mulling over a proposal that would shrink the time for filing personal injury lawsuits.
The state currently has no cap on damages in any type of injury. State Senator Ralph Alvarado aims to change that with SB-20, a bill that seeks to impose contingency caps on attorney fees in medical malpractice cases. The limits in this provision would allow a lawyer to make $60,000 of contingency fees if their client wins $200,000 in damages, or $140,000 if their client wins $1 million in damages.
Other provisions would exempt medical peer review discussions from discovery, require medical malpractice lawsuits to contain an affidavit of merit (a document stating that at least one doctor agrees the claim has merit), and allow healthcare workers to express condolences to patients or families without fear of having those words used against them in a lawsuit.
Alvarado has pledged to personally lobby every member of the Senate to try to ensure the bill’s passage. “Once it’s in the House, it’s a much more different venture — we still have a lot of unknowns as to what that count would look like,” said Alvarado.
The local business community and the Chamber of Commerce endorse Alvarado’s bill. The Kentucky Chamber has been a longtime supporter of legal liability reform.” said Ashli Watts, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for public affairs. “According to the Institute for Legal Reform, Kentucky is ranked 42nd for our legal liability climate, which is negative factor for businesses when looking at where to locate, invest, etc.”
Of course trial lawyers and Senate Democrats stand opposed to the bill. Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said SB-20 would “substantially reduce the rights of a patient who has been harmed by a doctor’s recklessness.” Thomas said the bill “is just not going to happen, as a practical matter.”
A proposal in the Show-Me State aims to shorten the statute of limitations on filing personal injury lawsuits to three years (down from five). The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, aims to capitalize on Governor Eric Greitens’ aggressive push for tort reform.
“Missouri has not amended the five-year statute since 1939,” Hegeman told the Senate government reform committee. “While five years may have made sense in an age when transportation and communication were more challenging, there is no reason today for an injured person to need so much time to file the action.”
David Klarich, representing the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, spoke against the bill. “One of the advantages of a five-year statute of limitations over a shorter period of time is it gives plaintiffs, or those people who have been hurt through no fault of their own, the opportunity to settle these cases,” he said.