Georgia Legislature Passes Litigation Reform Bill

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By Matt Brady

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NU Online News Service, Feb. 15, 9 :14 p.m.EST?The Georgia Senate gave final approval yesterday tolegislation that will cap non-economic damages in medicalmalpractice lawsuits as well as implementing other legalreforms.

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The measure now goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is expected tosign it into law.

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A spokesperson for the governor said today that the bill had notyet been physically delivered to the governor. Additionally, thespokesperson said, while the governor is "very familiar" with thelegislation, he will review the bill before signing it intolaw.

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The insurance industry and other tort reform advocates hailedthe bill's passage as a means of improving the state's businessclimate and ensuring greater availability of healthcare.

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"S.B. 3 should improve the stability and predictability ofGeorgia's liability environment for insurers, and that's good newsfor consumers, health care providers and businesses," said RaymondFarmer, American Insurance Association assistant vice president,Southeast region.

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He added that, "The ability to attract and keep businesses,medical facilities and providers is directly related to a state'slitigation environment, and in recent years Georgia's has shownsigns of weakness."

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Mr. Farmer related that, "A multi-year legislative effort toaddress the issue was not successful until this year, when theRepublican leadership in the House and Senate, a well as thestate's business and medical communities, made tort reform theirtop priority."

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The American Tort Reform Association noted that hostilelitigation environments can be a driving force in lowering accessto healthcare, as doctors to give up specialty practices, leave theprofession altogether or relocate to other states with morebalanced litigation systems.

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Georgia, the ATRA noted, is considered a "crisis" state by theAmerican Medical Association, but legislative measure similar tothose in SB 3 have helped improve the conditions of otherjurisdictions.

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"Other states, including Mississippi and Texas, have recentlyenacted similar legislation that has improved those states'business climates and has helped keep doctors
where their patients need them," said ATRA President ShermanJoyce.

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SB 3 will cap non-economic damages at $350,000 for medicalmalpractice cases with a single defendant and $1.05 million forthose involving multiple defendants.

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Additionally, the bill would strengthen standards for expertwitnesses, limit emergency room liability and provide incentivesfor out-of-court settlements.

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The bill also would enact venue reforms for cases with multipledefendants, requires the reporting of judgments and settlements tothe state Board of Medical Examiners and removes the joint andseveral liability system, in which one defendant could be liablefor an entire damage award, regardless of their actualliability.

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