Monday, January 03, 2005

Hope Springs Eternal....
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Legislature to try again on tort reform.:
Doctors in white smocks, trial lawyers in power suits and medical malpractice victims in wheelchairs are expected to fill Capitol hallways during the upcoming Georgia General Assembly. Once again, they will wage a high-stakes, big-money lobbying campaign over caps on jury awards.......
.....But with Republicans now controlling both houses of the Legislature, coupled with the exit of a number of influential lawyer-legislators who opposed capping medical malpractice jury awards, the probability of tort reform seems higher than ever.

On both the national and state levels, few issues generate as much campaign cash and lobbying muscle as tort reform. It pits two well-financed interests against each other: trial lawyers and health care providers.

Doctors and hospitals continue to press the issue because, they say, swelling malpractice insurance premiums caused by soaring jury awards and legal settlements are driving doctors out of Georgia. Citizens groups and trial lawyers counter that limiting jury awards will do little to ease insurance rates; instead, they say, it will deny medical malpractice victims the right to be compensated justly for their injuries.

The sidebar of the article has details of a bill that has already been submitted for the 2005 session. Some high points:
Cap non-economic jury awards to victims at $250,000 to $750,000, depending on whether there are multiple defendants who are held liable.
The hope is to prevent the multi-million "pain and suffering" awards that are out there, and allow for some predictability.
Prohibit non-economic damages from being awarded — except in instances of "willful or wanton misconduct" — to patients who become victims of a health care provider's malpractice within the first 24 hours after a visit to an
I like this a great deal. Many patients in this situation fall under EMTALA, perhaps the most expensive unfunded federal mandate in existence. Physicians are forced to provide care in stressful situations to patients that may or may not have coverage, and in the case of trauma patients, are likely to sue someone anyway. The risk/reward calculation in this situation has forced many subspecialists to withdraw from emergency room coverage.
Prohibit lawyers from venue-shopping to get jury pools more favorable to plaintiffs
I was not aware of such problems occurring in Georgia, Mississippi yes, but in Georgia?
Require juries to precisely apportion damage awards in multidefendant cases
The elimination of "joint and several liability". This would also help in keeping physicians available for coverage. Patient care could also be improved, since patients with complications or difficult conditions are often shunned because no one wants their name on a chart that is likely to end up in court.
Strengthen the standards and requirements for expert witnesses.
At a legislative "meet and greet" a few weeks ago hosted by the local medical society one of the local legislators, heavily involved in environmental activism, was wringing her hands over how such "expert witness" legislation could hamper her pet causes. My pet cause is preventing stuff like this from happening. Via Overlawyered and the Allentown Morning Call: The county had no neurosurgeon, and the boy died
Robert Surrick of Chester County was angry over the death of a 17-year-old boy following a traffic accident.

''He had head trauma,'' Surrick told me. ''They took him to Brandywine.'' The boy could not be treated at Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville because the trauma center had closed, so he was transferred to Crozier-Chester Medical Center in Delaware County.

''By the time he got there, he was dead. It was two hours from the time of the accident until they got him to Crozier,'' he said, noting it's crucial that neurosurgeons see head trauma patients within an hour.

''The last neurosurgeon in Chester County was Sam Lyness, a world-class neurosurgeon,'' Surrick said, but Lyness left Pennsylvania when his malpractice premiums reached $383,000. With no neurosurgeons, Brandywine shut down its trauma center in 2002.
It's even happening here:
The issue of capping jury awards sparks the most heated dispute. The Medical Association of Georgia says caps are essential to keep malpractice insurance premiums from rising to levels that force doctors to leave the state or retire early.

Dr. Geoffrey Cole, 48, a neurosurgeon in Athens, said he is giving up his practice to pursue a master's degree in business administration and work for HealthPlan Select, a hospital insurance company.

"Some might say I'm at the peak of a career," Cole said. "If the medical liability climate was more favorable, I'm sure I would have reached a different decision."
Your young college student in Athens is in a car wreck or falls, who will be there to take care of them?
Not Dr. Cole.
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