December 2002 Bulletin

From the States

In Brief

The 2002 election brought a windfall for the Republican Party at both the national and state legislative levels. For the first time since 1954, more state legislators are Republican than Democrat. Ignoring the historical trend that indicated they should lose 350 state legislative seats, the Republicans picked up about 200. Pending recounts, they alsogained control of seven legislative chambers while only losing control of one to the Democrats. Both parties saw one chamber they controlled slip into a tie. Republicans now control both chambers in 21 states (up four from prior to the election) while the Democrats rule in 16 (down one) and 12 states have divided control. (Nebraska is non-partisan, but in reality controlled by Republicans.)

Following are the Nov. 5, 2002 election results for the orthopaedic surgeons who ran for state legislative seats:

Georgia State Senate
Thomas E. Price, MD, (R) was re-elected to the Senate unopposed.

Maine House of Representatives
Thomas F. Shields, MD, (R) won re-election to his House seat by a vote of 2,074 to 1,567.

North Dakota State Senate
Sen. Ralph L. Kilzer, MD, (R) won his race for re-election 4,301 to 2,529.

West Virginia State Senate
Thomas F. Scott, MD, (R) narrowly lost his bid to regain the Senate seat he lost in 2000.

Wyoming State Senate
John A. Barrasso, MD, (R) won a state Senate seat unopposed.

Mississippi

The legislature finally agreed on a compromise medical liability insurance/tort reform package in October. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove quickly signed the bill into law. The law includes a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages. The cap will be increased to $750,000 in 2011 and $1,000,000 in 2017. The cap does not apply in cases of "gross negligence or other times when punitive damages are applied."

The law also eliminates joint liability for non-economic damages. For economic damages, if the defendant is held less than 30 percent at fault,then the defendant must only pay for the percentage of economic damages attributed to their actions.

In another important victory for physicians, the new law requires that all medical liability cases be filed in the county where the care was provided. It also requires that plaintiffs afford defendants 60 days notice before suit can be brought. The filing must also include a certificate of merit. Updated information can be found online at http://www.ls.state.ms.us/.

Nevada

A physicians’ group, Keep Our Doctors in Nevada, claims that they have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to vote on their tort reform package in 2003. If the legislature rejects the proposal, it would go on the ballot as a referendum in 2004. The physicians want to eliminate the exceptions to the $350,000 cap that the legislature enacted last month. They also want to limit attorneys’ contingency fees. The physicians’ group also commissioned a study that concluded the legislative reforms that passed last month would not solve the liability insurance problem. The study noted that the non-economic damages cap has two exceptions that would lead to unpredictability in judgments. Updated information can be found online at http://www.leg.state.nv.us/.

New Jersey

Multiple tort reform bills were introduced in October. The bill that physicians are pushing for provides for a 180-day notice to the physician before suit can be filed. The plaintiff must also file an affidavit of merit. The bill also toughens the standards for who may serve as an expert witness. All cases–before being tried–must go through a five-member mediation panel made up of two lawyers, two health care providers licensed by the same state board as the defendant and one active or retired judge.

Non-economic damages would be limited by the bill to $250,000, unless the plaintiff is "hemiplegic, paraplegic, or quadriplegic, the plaintiff has permanently impaired cognitive capacity rendering him incapable of independent daily living, or there has been a permanent loss of or damage to a reproductive organ resulting in the inability to procreate." In those cases the cap would be $500,000. You can visit the state Web site at http://www.state.nj.us/.

Pennsylvania

Legislation was signed into law changing the venue statute so that medical liability cases can only be brought in the county where the actions leading to the lawsuit occurred.

A bill also was introduced in October to create a special court system in Pennsylvania that would hear only medical liability cases. The Project on Medical Liability in Pennsylvania, a two-year research initiative funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that small business owners and the general population were concerned that the current liability market would drive up health care costs and result in less access to care. You can visit the state Web site at: http://www.state.pa.us/.

West Virginia

Gov. Bob Wise wants to lower the professional liability premiums of physicians who are insured through the state below the current level available in the private market. The governor’s office stated, "there are so few insurers" writing policies in West Virginia that there is no competitive market in the state. You can visit the state Web site at: http://www.wv.gov/.


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