Malpractice Bill Passes through Oregon Senate, House

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm announce that a bill focusing on mediation recently passed through both Oregon’s House and Senate with wide margins. Governor Kitzhaber is expected to sign the bill into law very soon.

Senate Bill 483 emphasizes mediation – private conversations between doctors, patients and hospitals – over courtroom trials. Instead of engaging in a malpractice lawsuit, the three entities could choose to report any incidents of adverse health care to the Oregon Patient Safety Commission. Patients would still reserve the right, however, to engage in a traditional courtroom trial. The Safety Commission is a semi-independent state agency, and will be responsible for establishing the requirements and procedures to enact the bill. The costs of implementing the bill’s provisions are estimated at about $1.6 million.

According to its website, the Commission is responsible for encouraging an atmosphere of safety for all Oregon patients by reducing the risk of serious negative incidents within the state health care system. This mission is expected to be accomplished by establishing a confidential adverse event reporting system, which is sectioned by health facility type (such as nursing homes, surgery centers, hospitals, etc). The Commission will also establish quality control improvements to reduce healthcare errors, and improve patient outcomes by sharing evidence-based prevention techniques to physicians and facilities statewide.

The bill is the result of the efforts of a work group assembled by Governor Kitzhaber. Only one member of the house opposed the bill in the vote, and only three senators voted no. Surprisingly, the legislation is gaining support from both the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association and the Oregon Medical Association – two entities that typically disagree with each other on medical malpractice lawsuit reform.

A similar bill recently passed through the Iowa House, designated as one of Governor Branstad’s top priorities of 2013. In this proposed legislation, all lawsuits alleging malpractice would first be subject to review by a panel before going to trial. The panel would review the case and could potentially place limits on the amount plaintiffs can be awarded. It would also require plaintiffs to submit documents that prove their case has substantial merit.

Other states, such as Arizona, have already implemented laws to heed off frivolous malpractice lawsuits. The Arizona Supreme Court recently upheld a law that requires plaintiffs to have an expert witness who is in the same medical field as the defendant doctor to testify at their trial.

In Georgia, a bill is being proposed that would take malpractice cases out of the court system completely. Instead, all claims would be brought before a state board. Republican Senator Brandon Beach is sponsoring the legislation, claiming the skyrocketing health care costs are largely due to doctors ordering unnecessary tests to prevent being sued. The President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, however, said the bill will not significantly cut costs.

He said that the state board would be paid for by taxpayers, and the bill is merely an attempt to expand government and reduce the justice system. He states the proposed legislation is unconstitutional, because it violates the 7th amendment: the right to trial by jury.

The proposed board is very similar to the one already set up for worker’s compensation claims. It would consist of 11 members – three doctors, attorneys, an accountant, a hospital administrator, business executives, and two patient advocates. The Medical Association of Georgia also opposes the bill, stating it would only increase the amount of claims filed, ultimately increasing healthcare costs.

Some experts are suggesting that states implement specialized medical courts, which would hear only cases of medical malpractice, such as courts devoted solely to tax law and patents. Others suggest doctors who follow evidence-based best practices should be protected from liability in a sort of ‘safe harbor.’ Still others are advocating for placing caps on malpractice awards.

Medical malpractice lawyers are watching these developments in malpractice reform state-by-state, and will continue to report on new laws and legislation. If you or someone close to you was seriously injured by a medical error, you may be entitled to compensation, and should contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible.