Trend: Medical Malpractice Tort Reform

Since 2000, increased tension and conflict between patients, their insurers, the medical community and its insurers, trial lawyers, and victims’ rights groups have helped spawn a new movement in addressing medical malpractice: tort reform. In just the year 2005, a number of states (around 48) have created legislation in order to overhaul the system and make sure that the public interest is still being protected by the state.

Much of the reasoning behind tort reform is the notion that medical malpractice lawsuits are one of the biggest drivers of high medical costs. However, a study published by the Congressional Budget Office in 2009 concluded that limiting malpractice liability would limit health care spending in the U.S. by just one-half of 1 percent. Out of the fear to be involved in litigation for medical malpractice, medical professionals have started the practice of defensive medicine.

Because of the possible abuse, states have tried to limit and provide for damages cap to make sure that a certain plaintiff would not just claim the sky and the stars. Moreover, almost all states now have two year statutes of limitations for standard claims, and have eliminated joint and several liability in malpractice law suits. At the federal level, Congress still struggled with the notion of federal legislation that would preempt all existing state laws governing medical malpractice lawsuits.

Examples of State Malpractice Tort Reform Laws

  • Texas: In the year 2003, a bill was passed which provided cap for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, from malpractice claims at $250,000 (with a “willful and wanton” negligence standard applying to emergency care.
  • FloridaPrivate teaching hospitals are shielded from malpractice claims through “sovereign immunity;” non-economic damages capped at $300,000 per incident.

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