Docs seek medical liability protections, state by state

With national tort reform still on the back burner, physicians are mounting state-based efforts to achieve tort reforms, with a key focus on enacting, maintaining or lowering noneconomic damage caps, reports the American Medical News.

Physicians gained several legislative victories last year. Oklahoma passed a tort reform package that included a $400,000 cap on noneconomic damages, and doctors in Nevada and Colorado successfully battled bills to raise cap limits in their states. In the first three months of 2010, medical liability-related bills have been introduced in more than 30 states, according to the American Medical Association.

Key cap-related battles are ongoing in two states. In Utah, physicians are advocating a bill that would set the noneconomic damage cap at $450,000, removing annual inflation adjustments that raised the current cap to $480,000. In Maryland, physicians are contesting a bill that would raise the noneconomic damage cap from $680,000 to $740,000 and add inflation adjustments.

Physicians also are seeking out other ways to reduce unnecessary litigation. A separate bill in Maryland would enable doctors to apologize to patients without having their words thrown back at them in court. In Utah, a bill would require a panel to screen lawsuits, forcing plaintiff attorneys to file an expert affidavit certifying the merit of any cases they want to pursue that the panel has said have no merit. In Arizona, a bill that would require stronger expert witness opinions be validated as admissible in medical liability and other civil cases.

Physicians also are fighting to prevent potential expansions of liability in several states. In Washington, a bill would give parents the ability to bring more claims and recover additional noneconomic damages for an adult child's death. Also, court battles in Kansas and Illinois could result in the elimination of existing caps if state constitutional amendments aren't enacted.

To learn more about physician efforts:
- read the American Medical News article