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
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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 decried the current cap as outdated and unfair to seriously injured patients.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.