Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report two new pieces of medical malpractice legislation that were recently introduced into Missouri and Georgia by Senators Bob Dixon and Brandon Beach, respectively.
The Missouri legislation would alter the standards of evidence for potential medical malpractice claims. Currently, evidence is expected to be predominantly in favor of the plaintiff, proving that medical negligence took place that resulted in plaintiff injury. Dixon’s bill would change this standard, requiring evidence to be “clear and convincing,” which is just one step below the standards required for criminal trials.
The bill would also place a maximum on the amount of non-economic damages a plaintiff can receive. In the summer of 2012, a $350,000 non-economic maximum was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court, deemed unconstitutional. Dixon is attempting to find a compromise on the issue, and has offered what he believes to be a fair negotiation in his bill. Missouri lawyers, however, uphold what the state’s Supreme Court previously decided, stating that non-economic damages are extremely difficult to determine, and a cap on such awards violates basic rights.
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Many are projecting that juries will interpret the change in evidentiary standards to mean that plaintiffs must provide document-based evidence. Non-economic damages, however, are difficult if not impossible to prove with documentation, as they often include pain and suffering and loss of consortium, which is lost relations between husband and wife.
The Georgia bill would take medical malpractice claims out of courts completely, instead placing them before a physician’s panel for hearings. It would make the handling of malpractice claims more similar to worker’s compensation cases. If a doctor or hospital makes a medical mistake, patients would have to take their complaints to a state-appointed panel of physicians instead of filing a lawsuit. The panel would then determine if compensation was warranted, and how much. The awarded compensation would come not from at-fault hospitals, as it does now, but from a fund that all medical providers would pay into. This no-fault system is similar to the course of action taken by injured workers, who file complaints of on-the-job injuries to a comparable panel.
Interestingly, supporters of Beach’s bill are saying it is in response to a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that decided, just like Missouri, that a $350,000 cap on malpractice awards was unconstitutional. Similar legislation is currently being pushed in Florida.
Advocates claim that these bills will reduce insurance premiums for healthcare providers and employers alike by reducing the amount of unneeded tests. Extra testing is sometimes ordered by doctors to cover all the bases, as an act of ‘defensive medicine,’ to avoid any potential acts of negligence. Advocates are also claiming that the new system will enable patients to receive compensation for smaller errors that would ordinarily not be significant enough for a trial.
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Like the Missouri legislation, however, many medical experts are concerned that these changes in the system will deprive suffering patients of fair compensation. Opponents also argue that the current system effectively prompts hospitals and physicians to act in the best standard of care, as lawsuits often cause them to make significant changes to their internal systems and safeguards. Others are arguing that the bills are simply unconstitutional, and that they will deny patients of their right to bring their case before a jury.
Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm will continue to advocate on behalf of victims of medical negligence and their families. We will report on any and all updates concerning these proposed legislations along with similar news from throughout the country.