Bill threatening Colorado liability cap fails

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania tort reforms contributed to a 41% drop in medical liability lawsuit filings.

By Amy Lynn Sorrel — Posted May 15, 2009

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

For the second straight year, Colorado physicians successfully defeated legislation aimed at raising the state's noneconomic damage cap -- a move doctors feared would unhinge the state's stable liability climate.

The bill, backed by trial lawyers, would have increased the current $300,000 cap by roughly 50%, to more than $450,000, largely to track inflation. Colorado law also places a $1 million cap on total awards, which the bill left unchanged. But because judges have the discretion to review economic compensation and override the $1 million limit, doctors worried that changes to the noneconomic award limit would make it more likely a court would break that threshold.

Colorado Medical Society President W. Ben Vernon, MD, credited the cap, passed in 1988, with keeping the state's liability climate steady for two decades and maintaining patients' access to care.

The proposal also would have required medical liability insurers first to get approval from state insurance regulators before hiking premiums -- authority regulators already have at their discretion, Dr. Vernon said.

Doctors averted a "splash and ripple effect that would have been pretty immediate," he said. To offset the legislation's potential impact, carriers would have needed to raise premiums 7% to 11%, according to Colorado Medical Society estimates.

The Colorado Trial Lawyers Assn. decried the current cap as outdated and unfair to seriously injured patients.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania tort reforms helped reduce medical liability lawsuit filings for the fifth straight year. Claims dropped 41% in 2008, compared with average numbers for 2000 to 2002, according to statistics the state Supreme Court released in April.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society and the high court credited two judicial reforms passed in 2002 under the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act. The law requires lawyers to file a certificate of merit from an expert with each case, and it prohibits so-called "venue shopping" by requiring lawsuits to be filed in the county where the alleged negligence occurred. Gov. Edward G. Rendell also praised the reforms' success.

Doctors are encouraged by the numbers, Pennsylvania Medical Society spokesman Chuck Moran said. Although the reforms have helped moderate insurance rates in recent years, excessive awards remain a problem, and premiums remain high, he warned.

Court statistics showed that while a majority of 2008 cases ended in defense verdicts, 60% of plaintiff awards exceeded $1 million.

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