Today's News

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Medical liability reform moves forward at state level

By Susan Koshy, JD, MPH and Jay Fisher, JD

State legislatures have been very busy dealing with medical liability reform legislation in 2004. In addition to the states highlighted below, medical liability reform legislation is being considered in Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and West Virginia.

The Connecticut Orthopaedic Society has recently hired a lobbyist to help push for medical liability reform legislation in Hartford. The legislature is considering legislation to create a subsidy to help physicians pay their premiums. However, a cap on non-economic damages is not included in the bills being debated.

The AAOS recently provided $20,000 to the Georgia Orthopaedic Society (GOS) through the Medical Liability Reform Campaign fund (MLRC) to help pass liability reform legislation in this state. The GOS submitted a detailed proposal requesting funding to work with their coalition partners to develop a public relations campaign to help pass meaningful reform.

More than 500 physicians lobbied at the Capitol for medical liability reform. They came armed with a new poll by The Georgia Coalition for Civil Justice Reform showing that 57 percent of Georgians support a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages versus 35 percent who do not. A series of reform bills is being considered by a House subcommittee. Sen. Tom Price, an orthopaedic surgeon, is sponsoring reform legislation, Senate Bill 432, currently awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to enact a cap on non-economic damages, passed the Senate with one vote to spare. The House Democrats have introduced House Bill 450 to create a non-profit insurer to provide insurance to physicians and require pre-trial screenings and mediation before a suit can go to court. The physician community lobbied the House to pass SB 1. In a recent Kentucky newspaper poll, 68 percent of respondents favored limiting awards.

After a well-attended physician rally at the Capitol, Governor Ehrlich mentioned the need for medical liability reform in his state of the state speech. No bill has moved yet in Maryland, but the governor's proposal would reduce the cap on non-economic damages to $500,000 from the current limit of $635,000.

The AAOS Medical Liability Reform Campaign provided a grant to the Mississippi Orthopaedic Society to work with its coalition partners in a public relations campaign to help pass stricter liability reform laws. Legislation has been introduced to lower the recently passed cap to $250,000.

Missouri is one of the two states selected through the AAOS Medical Liability Reform Campaign to receive direct assistance in passing medical liability reform legislation. The AAOS is working with the Missouri State Orthopaedic Association in developing strategies, public relations efforts and grassroots advocacy to help galvanize support for liability reform in 2004. Last year the legislature passed a bill to lower the existing cap on non-economic damages; the bill also included other reforms (many not related to medical liability), and was vetoed by the governor. This year the legislature is considering bills focused solely on medical liability reform.

A House committee recently passed a measure that would lower the existing cap on non-economic damages to $400,000, reform joint and several liability and tighten venue rules. Bills in the Senate have not yet moved.

New Jersey
The New Jersey Orthopaedic Society received a grant through the AAOS Medical Liability Reform Campaign to set up an innovative campaign to match up orthopaedic surgeons with their state legislators so that the surgeon and legislator can develop a working relationship. There have been 23 bills introduced that address the medical liability insurance crisis in New Jersey, though none have moved.


Pennsylvania is the second state receiving assistance through the AAOS Medical Liability Reform Campaign to get reform legislation passed within their state. The AAOS is working with the Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Society in providing assistance with coalition development, public relations, and grassroots advocacy. Last year, the House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment to allow caps on non-economic damages. This year the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a measure to allow a cap on non-economic damages. If the bill passes the Senate, it must go back to the House and then pass both bodies next session before going to the voters.

South Carolina
A bill creates a $300,000 cap only on damages for pain and suffering. This cap does not apply to other non-economic damages. The other bill creates a $2,000,000 cap on all non-economic damages and limits where a lawsuit can be filed.

South Dakota
A bill that would repeal the provision enacted last year that allows physicians to refuse to provide care if a patient does not agree to binding arbitration has passed out of committee.


The battle lines between the House and Senate that developed last year over caps has returned. This year the Senate has again passed a reform bill that includes a cap of $350,000 on non-economic damages. The House recently passed 12 bills to address the liability insurance crisis in Washington. Although the bills reform joint and several liability, shorten the statute of limitations and provide for mandatory mediation, they do not cap non-economic damages.


The governor has endorsed bill to allow the public to vote on a constitutional amendment to allow a cap on non-economic damages. Both houses of the legislature have voted to allow the legislature to consider these amendments this year. Recently, the Wyoming Medical Society and the Wyoming Hospital Association released the results of a telephone poll showing that 77 percent of voters support medical liability reforms, including a cap on non-economic damages, as a good way to prevent frivolous lawsuits.

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Last modified 01/March/2004