Tort reforms boost some states' liability outlook

The AMA reports several states in better condition, although doctors remain cautious of impending legal threats.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted March 5, 2007

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

State tort reforms that have helped level off insurance premiums and reduce lawsuit filings has led the American Medical Association to declare that several states have improved liability climates at the start of 2007.

In 2002, the AMA started categorizing how states' physicians were faring in an often unstable medical liability climate. The recent changes reduce the number of states in crisis to 17, down from 21 in 2006.

The Association upgraded Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and West Virginia to a more moderate liability environment. Before passing reforms, those states had been listed as being in crisis because unaffordable insurance premiums were forcing physicians to retire early, give up high-risk procedures or leave the state.

"We're encouraged that some states have seen improvements in their medical liability climates, yet medical liability premiums are still sky-high in many parts of the country," said AMA President William G. Plested III, MD. "The AMA, along with state and specialty societies, will continue to work hard to enact meaningful reforms at both the state and federal levels so that when patients need care, physicians are there to provide it."

Doctors caution that some legislative changes have yet to take hold, and others face legal threats, preventing significant decreases in premiums. For example, Georgia doctors anticipate a challenge to the constitutionality of the $350,000 noneconomic damage cap passed in 2005, which includes a $1.05 million ceiling.

"Some insurers have expanded business, and others are entering the market," said Donald Palmisano Jr., general counsel to the Medical Assn. of Georgia. "But we are waiting to see when the challenge comes, and it eventually will."

Meanwhile, Arkansas' 2003 affidavit-of-merit requirement to file a medical liability case has helped cut lawsuit filings by nearly half, according to Arkansas Medical Society Executive Vice President David Wroten. But the measure is mired in the state Supreme Court, with doctors and insurers awaiting a decision on its validity, he said.

The AMA also declared eight states as stable, adding Idaho and Texas to the list. Many doctors in those states have seen premium cuts or refunds, and an influx of specialists.

In 2003, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment for a $250,000 noneconomic damages limit. The same year, Idaho lawmakers lowered the state's noneconomic cap from $650,000 to $250,000 in wrongful death and personal injury cases.

Back to top


State of liability

[see map]

The American Medical Association has updated its medical liability map for 2007. Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and West Virginia moved off the crisis list of states where medical liability insurance rates force physicians to retire early, eliminate high-risk procedures or leave the state. The number of states in crisis stands at 17, down from 21 a year ago.

Crisis states: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington and Wyoming.

Caution states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. Also, Washington, D.C., and Guam.

Stable states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin.

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn