New tort reform law a “tremendous win” for doctors
■ Reform advocates say the Michigan legislation enables a more balanced court process while lessening defensive medicine.
By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Feb. 4, 2013
Physicians are praising a refurbished tort reform package signed into Michigan law in January that they say strengthens protections against frivolous cases.
The Patients First Reform Package enhances reforms approved in 1993 by improving how jury awards are calculated and clarifying which claims fall under noneconomic damages, said Colin J. Ford, senior director of state and federal government relations for the Michigan State Medical Society.
“Our intent was to preserve the intent of the reforms first passed in 1993, which is to keep doctors in the operating room and out of the courtroom,” Ford said in an email. “Our legislative package preserves the ability of a patient to have access to the courts, but puts reasonable requirements in place to assure that our courts treat physicians fairly in Michigan.”
The state’s original reforms, enacted in 1994, included a certificate of merit for all complaints and a $280,000 noneconomic damages cap, among other rules. However, since then, the statutes underwent various interpretations by the courts, and certain loopholes were introduced, Ford said. For example, jury award calculations that included future damages were improperly weighted toward plaintiffs, he said.
The 2013 law requires a fairer formula for calculating future damages, Ford said. The reforms also limit the time frame a party can sue on behalf of a deceased patient and bans prejudgment interest and attorney fees incurred before a judgment is issued. In addition, the law clarifies that loss of household, companionship and consortium are considered noneconomic damages and subject to the state’s liability cap.
“The passage of this legislation is a tremendous win for Michigan’s physicians, as it mitigates the need to practice defensive medicine,” said Richard E. Anderson, MD, chair and CEO of The Doctors Company. The Doctors Company, a physician-owned liability insurer in Napa, Calif., advocated for the Michigan reform package.
However, the Michigan Assn. for Justice — the state’s trial bar — expressed disappointment over the laws, saying they do not benefit patients.
“Throughout the debate, we heard advocates of the legislation continually talk about patient safety and increasing the number of doctors who locate in Michigan,” Ryan Irvin, a MAJ spokesman, said in an email. “We think these are important and laudable goals. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests neither goal is advanced by the reforms that were proposed or passed. … We hope legislators turn their attention to solutions that will actually solve the problems they seek to address.”