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How Medical Malpractice Tort Reform Affects Your Medical Practice

Medical malpractice tort reform has been enacted in some states to protect medical professionals from waves of frivolous lawsuits. Tort reform addresses changes or limitations on the civil justice system, specifically capping non-economic damages to prevent bankruptcy. In this article, learn about this legislation and how legal experts can help you navigate the system in your favor.

What Is a Tort?

Torts are lawsuits that arise when someone has been wrongfully injured. Torts are covered by civil law, so they’re usually tried in civil courts. There are two types of torts: intentional and unintentional, and a variety in between.

Intentional Torts

As the name suggests, intentional torts occur when the person committing the act knows it would lead to injury and does so anyway. These cases can be tricky to prove because it requires showing that the individual intended to cause harm.

Examples of intentional torts include battery, assault, false imprisonment, and fraud.

Unintentional Torts

These torts happen when an individual didn’t mean to commit a wrongful act but still did so. Unlike intentional torts, proving negligence only requires demonstrating that a reasonable person would have known their actions could lead to injury.

Unintentional torts include car accidents (negligence), slips and falls (premises liability), and medical malpractice.

What Is Malpractice Tort Reform?

Medical malpractice tort reform involves placing more stringent rules on patient lawsuits against doctors for medical malpractice. Tort reform also reduces the amount of recovery they could potentially receive.

Various states are passing this legislation in response to the rising number and severity of frivolous lawsuits against doctors. In addition, some argue that malpractice tort reform can lead to lower insurance premiums.

Changes that tort reforms have brought include:

  • Time Constraints: Stricter deadlines for filing a medical malpractice case to ensure that evidence is still fresh and accurate, preventing victims from waiting too long to file a claim.
  • Procedural Constraints: Some states updated the way they handle the procedures of medical malpractice cases. For example, many jurisdictions now require pre-trial conferences and alternative dispute resolution methods (such as mediation).
  • Claim Filing Limits: Limits on the ability to file claims are in place to make it harder to sue a medical professional for medical malpractice. This aims to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits filed every year, only filtering the most relevant cases.
  • Damage Caps: This change affects the amount that a victim may recover, preventing victims from receiving exorbitant sums of money that are not reflective of their actual damages. They also discourage false claims because of the reduced potential payout.
  • Attorney Fee Limits: Reform also limits how much attorneys can recover in medical malpractice cases in some states. Thus, it further dissuades people from pursuing malpractice claims because attorneys may not get as much in return.

Why Was Tort Reform Enacted in Some States?

Legislators cited the high expenses associated with litigation and compensation payouts, raising the cost of insurance premiums. Experts suggested that the expenses of medical malpractice lawsuits can decrease health care quality but increase their prices.

However, some people believe that medical malpractice reform has been ineffective in achieving its goals. Critics argue that it only shifted the costs from one group (insurance companies and health care providers) to another (injured patients who need medical care). Overall, they do not believe that medical malpractice tort reform has saved society money.

Others point out that frivolous lawsuits are still a problem. However, they argue that medical malpractice reform helped reduce the number of these cases, making it easier for those with legitimate claims to have their day in court.

Meanwhile, medical malpractice tort reform is also meant to reduce the amount of defensive medicine that doctors perform. Doctors engage in this practice out of fear of being sued. It involves ordering unnecessary tests or procedures, potentially driving up the cost of health care.

Examples of State Malpractice Tort Reform Laws

Here are some examples of medical malpractice tort reform laws by state:

  • California: This state passed the Malpractice and Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), limiting “pain and suffering” damages to $250,000. It is also the first state to pass tort reform that limits plaintiffs’ leverage.
  • Florida: This state’s efforts in malpractice tort reform laws developed “sovereign immunity,” which shields private teaching hospitals from malpractice claims. At the same time, it caps non-economic damages at $300,000 per incident.
  • Texas: This state passed a bill in 2003 that caps non-economic damages from malpractice claims at $250,000. It specifies a negligence standard that applies to emergency care, describing it as “willful and wanton.”

Get Legal Help With Your Medical Malpractice Issue

Medical malpractice tort reform affects medical professionals in states that adopted such changes in legislation. These laws aim to filter out unreasonable medical malpractice cases and focus on the more substantial ones. If you believe you have a claim, consider getting an experienced attorney to assess your case and determine your medical malpractice defense options.