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June 13, 2011
Several years ago the legislature capped financial awards for medical malpractice lawsuits, and earlier this year the state’s largest physician group asked lawmakers to expand legal protections for doctors into additional areas.
The Ohio State Medical Association wants the General Assembly to pass a proposal that would significantly raise the legal standard for civil suits against doctors working in emergency departments. The measure would have raised the legal standard from ordinary negligence to “willful and wanton” misconduct by the emergency room physician. However, the Senate revised it down a step to “recklessness” before passing the bill.
OSMA also hopes lawmakers will effectively shorten the statute of limitations for physician liability in cases where the claimant is a child, he said. In addition, the group is also working on a proposal for doctors who treat Medicaid patients that could help lawmakers rein in state healthcare spending in the upcoming biennial budget.
Attorneys that represent injured patients are preparing to fight additional limits on medical malpractice litigation, but recognize the tide is not in their favor because Republicans now control both chambers and the governor’s office, who is not likely to veto the legislation. To make it a trifecta, the only body capable of declaring the legislation unconstitutional is the Ohio Supreme Court, also comprised nearly exclusively of Republicans.
John Van Doorn, executive director of the Ohio Association for Justice, said restrictions on tort litigation that the General Assembly passed several years ago has denied many Ohioans their legal rights.
“The data clearly shows fewer Ohioans have filed suit and their recoveries are smaller. The question is, isn’t that enough?” he said.
Nevertheless, Mr. Maglione was optimistic that the proposal to grant immunity to doctors working in emergency departments would pass under the GOP-controlled legislature. A similar bill (SB86, 128th General Assembly) cleared the Senate last session but saw no action in the Democrat-controlled House.
Restrictions on medical malpractice litigation enacted several years ago have had a positive effect on doctors’ insurance rates, and additional limitations can only help more to control skyrocketing healthcare costs, he said.
Since 2005, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits has declined by about 35%, and physicians’ insurance rates have decreased by about 22%, he said. At the height of the litigation “crisis,” there were only three insurance companies writing malpractice policies in Ohio and now there are more than 15.
Mr. Van Doorn, however, maintained Ohio law is already skewed against the average citizen.
“Ohio doesn’t need to pass more regulations and more legal exceptions that let wrongdoers off the hook and saddle taxpayers with the bill,” he said.
Indeed, the Republicans’ support for such measures is at odds with their often-stated values.
On the one hand, they espouse personal responsibility and accountability as a virtue, and on the other hand to seek to excuse people, in any walk of life, from being accountable and responsible for their negligence.
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