August 2002 Bulletin

In Brief


Gov. Tony Knowles signed a bill that allows doctors to band together to negotiate with insurance companies. Knowles approved the measure despite objections from two departments within his administration. The bill’s aim is to help level the playing field between doctors and big insurance companies.


August 1 the Nevada legislature approved a compromise tort reform bill designed to address the professional liability insurance crisis. The bill includes a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages with exceptions for cases of gross negligence and where the judge determines by "clear and convincing" evidence that an award greater than $350,000 is justified. The bill also places a $50,000 cap on doctors who treat traumatic injuries in trauma centers. It further eliminates joint and several liability for non-economic damages (but keeps it for economic damages). The bill also deals with affidavits of merit, statute of limitations and expert witness testimony. Lastly, the bill mandates reporting of sentinel events to the state, but keeps the reports confidential.

North Carolina

A new law allows managed care patients an additional review of their case by an independent panel to determine whether an insurer should have paid for a procedure. If all appeals have been exhausted, a patient unhappy with the panel’s decision could then sue for damages, claiming an HMO failed to exercise proper care.


The Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (Act 13) was signed into law. It contains important patient safety initiatives targeted at ambulatory surgical facilities, as well as birthing centers and hospitals. The act requires facilities to develop, implement and comply with an internal patient safety plan

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives concurred in Senate amendments to Senate Bill 1089 and sent to Gov. Mark Schweiker a bill to reform joint and several liability. Defendants in a civil suit who are found by a judge or jury to be less than 60 percent liable would only pay their proportional share of the overall liability.


Governor Howard Dean signed H. B. 755 that became effective on July 1, 2002. The bill makes it easier for the state to discipline doctors who misbehave. Among the bill’s provisions is a section creating a publicly accessible database on every physician in Vermont. The profile will include 17 types of information on the physician including all payments made in "malpractice" suits including judgments, settlements and arbitrations over the last ten years. The bill requires this information to be put in context by comparing it to "the experience of other health care professionals within the same specialty within the New England region or nationally." Additionally, the following statement must appear: "Settlement of a claim may occur for a variety of reasons which do not necessarily reflect negatively on the professional competence or conduct of the health care professional. A payment in settlement of a medical malpractice action or claim should not be construed as creating a presumption that medical malpractice has occurred." Lastly, the profile must include language describing the reality that physicians treating certain types of injuries or patients are more likely to be sued.

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