Governor to get bill limiting medical malpractice

On April 25, 2008, in News 2008, by Mark Norris

Doctors, lawyers both approve of changes in law

By JENNIFER BROOKS • Staff Writer • Tennessean.com
April 25, 2008

The first change in Tennessee’s medical malpractice laws in three decades sailed through the state Senate Thursday and is headed toward the governor’s desk for approval.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, aims to make it harder to file frivolous malpractice lawsuits.

It requires attorneys to have a qualified medical expert sign off on the merits of their case within 90 days of filing suit, with the threat of fines for attorneys who don’t comply. It also requires that doctors receive 60 days’ notice before a lawsuit is filed.

“We’re pleased about it,” Norris said after the Senate unanimously passed the bill. “It’s the most significant reform of the medical malpractice act in a generation.”

The legislation has been working its way through the legislature, in various forms, for the past five years.

The final version won praise from doctors and malpractice attorneys alike. Physicians argue that frivolous lawsuits are driving malpractice insurance into the stratosphere, while attorneys say the same lawsuits are clogging the legal system and detracting attention from cases where patients truly have been victims of malpractice.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a good bill,” said Daniel Clayton, a Nashville medical malpractice attorney and president-elect of the Tennessee Association for Justice, a trial lawyers’ association. “It forces lawyers to make sure their case is reviewed prior to filing a lawsuit. If you get a review back and the doctor says it’s no good, you’d better not be filing that case.”

Retired surgeon and medical administrator Michael Minch noted more than 80 percent of the malpractice lawsuits in Tennessee are settled without awarding any damages to the patient.

“The feeling is that this legislation could keep half of those suits from being filed. If so, it would be a huge win for everyone involved,” he said.

The bill has already passed the state House by a vote of 93-1. It moves now to Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to be signed into law.

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