Med-mal reform bill unexpectedly derailed

January 25, 2016

A proposal to raise caps on medical malpractice damages by $400,000 appears to face a grim prognosis after a key lawmaker said parties to the legislation have failed to agree on certain provisions of the bill.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, withdrew the bill from the panel’s calendar Monday afternoon. He told senators he had expected stakeholders who worked on the legislation in an interim study committee to produce an agreed bill, but Senate Bill 152 didn’t meet that requirement.

“In a short session, there are just some things you can’t get done,” Steele said in removing the bill he authored from the committee’s schedule. “Lay the blame for it directly on my shoulders, and that’s as far as I want to go,” he said.

Steele permitted no discussion on the bill, which he previously said had support of trial lawyers and key health care providers. The bill would have:

  • Raised the cap on med-mal damages from the current level of $1.25 million to $1.65 million;
  • Indexed future increase in caps to the consumer price index;
  • Allowed plaintiffs to file a claim in court without first going through a medical review panel if the claim is no more than $75,000. Currently, only claims of $15,000 or less may be tried directly to court;
  • Provided sanctions up to default judgment as to liability for parties, lawyers or medical review panelists who fail to act as required; and
  • Capped attorney fees at 31 percent of any med-mal recovery. Statute currently caps fees at 15 percent on awards from the Patient’s Compensation Fund but does not limit attorney fees collected from a health care provider’s insurance.

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