Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Georgia Tort Reform Update III....
Happy days are here again. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:Jury award limits OK'd
In an abrupt about-face, the state Senate approved legislation Monday to overhaul Georgia's civil justice system that was hailed by medical and business lobbies and condemned by trial lawyers and consumer advocates.

On Thursday, the Senate fell one vote short of approving the bill approved only moments earlier by the House to set limits on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. But after a weekend of intense lobbying, the Senate voted 38-15 in favor of the bill.

"There's been a pent-up demand for comprehensive civil justice reform," Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said after the vote. "When push came to shove, it was time to make it happen. I don't think anybody wanted to extend the emotional debate over this issue any longer."

Senate Bill 3 imposes a cap of $350,000 — or up to $1.05 million in multidefendant cases — on jury awards for malpractice victims' pain and suffering.

The legislation also will make it extremely difficult for a victim of malpractice to win damages, including lost wages and medical bills, for injuries caused by negligence in an emergency room procedure.

The bill's sponsors expect Gov. Sonny Perdue to sign it into law, but a spokeswoman for the governor said no signing date has been scheduled. Perdue will conduct a "thorough and deliberate review" of the legislation, Heather Hedrick said.

On Thursday, nine Republicans in the Senate voted against the bill, even though the Republican leadership has made overhauling civil justice a top priority this session. On Monday, the nine Republicans switched and voted for the bill. Four Democrats also changed their minds and voted in favor.

The bill's chief sponsor in the Senate, Preston Smith (R-Rome), called the legislation a reasonable compromise. "The bill is the right thing for us to do today," he said during debate Monday.
For the lack of one vote Friday, the bill had to come back. The following does not inspire confidence in our elected officials:
Another Republican, Sen. John Douglas of Covington, said he had initially voted against the bill by mistake. He said he was away from his desk, discussing highway projects, when he found out there was a roll call vote on SB 3. When he returned, he said, he saw some Republican colleagues voting against it and he joined them.

"I thought I'd missed something," said Douglas, a retired military officer. He acknowledged if he had been more aware, the vote Monday would not have been necessary.
And what about standing on principle?
Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland), who gave an impassioned speech against the bill last week, voted for it Monday because, he said, he was certain it would pass.

"I can count," Harp said. "I was beat, plain and simple. . . . There's no point in riding a dead horse."
In the end the caps were not the most controversial issue, but the burden of proof in ER cases:
One provision bitterly opposed by some lawmakers would allow medical malpractice victims in emergency room cases to prevail in court only after proving by clear and convincing evidence that an ER health care provider committed "gross negligence."

It was signed today by Governor Perdue at an Atlanta hospital:
Calling it “a great bill for Georgia,” Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law Wednesday legislation that will cap pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice lawsuits at $350,000, or up to $1.05 million in multidefendant cases. It was the first bill signed into law this session.

At a signing ceremony at the Women’s Center at Northside Hospital, the governor said Georgia was on the verge of a crisis with doctor’s leaving the profession because the cost of malpractice insurance.

“This is about access to health care,” he said. ” I’m here today at this wonderful women’s center

The law also will make it difficult for a victim of malpractice to win damages, including lost wages and medical bills, for injuries caused by negligence in an emergency room procedure.

Doctors and hospitals say the legislation was needed to hold down exorbitant malpractice insurance premiums that are forcing physicians to leave Georgia or stop practicing.

The full text of the law may be found here.
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