Mississippi tort reforms lead to reduction in lawsuits

An analysis finds that insurance premiums for doctors also have decreased significantly since the 2003 reforms were adopted.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Aug. 22, 2011

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

Ten years ago, Mississippi was known as a "lawsuit haven." Medical literature cites the state as suffering one of the worst physician shortages in the country because of skyrocketing insurance premiums.

But state tort reforms, including a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages, have led to reductions in claims filed by plaintiffs and premiums paid by doctors, a study shows.

The study, published in the August Obstetrics & Gynecology, compared lawsuits against doctors in all specialties before and after tort reforms were adopted in 2003. The study examined physicians covered by the Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi, the largest medical liability insurer in the state. The company insures more than 75% of Mississippi's physicians.

From 2000 to 2004, an average of 318 lawsuits were filed each year against doctors covered by insurer. From 2005 to 2009, that figure dropped to 140. For obstetrician-gynecologists, an average of 44 suits were filed yearly from 2000 to 2004. From 2005 to 2009, the average decreased to 15.

Insurance premiums also dropped considerably after tort reform efforts, the study found. From 2000 to 2004, premiums for all specialties escalated by 98%. In 2005, there was no change in rates. But between 2006 and 2010, premiums decreased from 5% to 20% each year.

The findings prove how significant tort reforms in Mississippi have been, said study author Mark A. Behrens, a Washington-based attorney and co-counsel for the American Tort Reform Assn. The organization supports damages caps and other tort reform measures.

"Common sense suggested that [award limits] would result in lower payments by insurers and that free market forces would ensure that those savings would be passed on to physicians," he said. "The reductions in Mississippi as a result of tort reform, both in terms of the number of lawsuits filed and the premiums paid by physicians, were quite dramatic."

Plaintiff attorneys often claim that limits on award damages do not improve the medical liability climate, Behrens said. Those assertions fueled his motivation to conduct the study, he said.

"Intuitively, both of these arguments are baseless, but I was looking for empirical data to objectively answer these charges for the benefit of policymakers and courts," he said.

Mississippi's reforms

The $500,000 cap was one of several tort reform measures approved by Mississippi legislators in 2003.

State law also requires that plaintiffs consult an expert before filing a negligence lawsuit and give defendants 60 days' notice before initiating a suit. The legislation abolished joint liability for noneconomic damages in certain cases. Attorneys must file lawsuits in counties that are connected to the facts of the case.

Behrens said he hopes the study will influence other states to consider enacting tort reform measures.

"The impact will be to educate policymakers in other states as to the effectiveness of limits on outlier pain and suffering awards in terms of making access to health care more affordable to ordinary citizens," he said.

A lawsuit challenging Mississippi's damages cap is before the state Supreme Court. At this article's deadline, the court had not ruled on the case.

Back to top


Tort reform impact

View in PDF

Click to see data in PDF.

Mississippi tort reforms have led to decreases in lawsuits filed against doctors insured by the Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi, which insures more than 75% of the state's physicians. Here are the number of medical liability claims filed before and after tort reforms were adopted in 2003:

Number of suits filed each year
Year Against all physicians Against ob-gyns
1986 82 16
1987 107 20
1988 123 22
1989 131 20
1990 152 21
1991 159 28
1992 163 27
1993 172 34
1994 215 41
1995 214 37
1996 202 39
1997 229 34
1998 227 42
1999 238 35
2000 257 41
2001 355 44
2002 630 95
2003 132 14
2004 218 24
2005 159 9
2006 129 11
2007 109 24
2008 135 11
2009 167 18
2010 173 10

Source: "Medical Liability Reform: A Case Study in Mississippi," Obstetrics & Gynecology, August (link)

Back to top

External links

"Medical Liability Reform, A Case Study of Mississippi," Obstetrics & Gynecology, August (link)

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