Connecticut doctors push for tort reform veto

The Ohio and New Hampshire legislatures are considering bills.

By Tanya Albert amednews correspondent — Posted May 24, 2004

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Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland is expected to veto tort reform the Legislature passed earlier this month, and that's just fine with physicians.

The measure didn't contain a cap on noneconomic damages, something physicians and insurers argue is key to stabilizing the medical liability insurance market. "The bill is totally inadequate without any caps," said Connecticut State Medical Society Executive Director Tim Norbeck.

At press time, Rowland had not announced whether he would sign the bill, but on several occasions he has said he wouldn't sign legislation without an awards limit.

Either way, Norbeck said, physicians will go back to the state capital next year to lobby for a bill that includes a noneconomic damages cap.

Until then, he said, more physicians will retire early, leave Connecticut or reduce services to keep their insurance premiums affordable. Connecticut is one of 19 states the AMA says is experiencing a medical liability crisis.

But lawyers and some consumer advocates argued that an award limit wouldn't reduce physicians' insurance rates and ultimately would hurt injured patients. Connecticut Patient's Rights, an advocacy group of about 200 families, believes the legislation would be good for the state and is fair to all sides. "It's a remarkable start," said Jean Rexford, the group's executive director.

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Senate approved a bill that would create a committee to review medical malpractice lawsuits before they go to trial. The panel would have the power to determine damages if a defendant admitted to being wrong and if the defendant and plaintiff agreed to let the committee determine the award.

In Ohio, the House on May 5 approved a bill that the Ohio State Medical Assn. believes would reduce the number of non-meritorious medical malpractice lawsuits. The measure calls for a certificate of expert review, tighter medical expert witness requirements, and an "I'm sorry" law that allows doctors to apologize or sympathize when there is a bad outcome without fear of their comments being used as evidence of liability.

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