Leaders in the Massachusetts Legislature are mulling changes in the law governing medical malpractice lawsuits that would reduce the amount of money people harmed by malpractice will receive when they successfully sue, a legislative source said.
A House-Senate conference committee, which is working on a compromise version of the state budget, is poised to call for a reduction in the interest that is paid on judgments in malpractice cases, the source said.
The conference version of the budget will also include proposals to form two commissions, one to study the idea of creating a special court for medical malpractice cases and the other to make “serious policy recommendations” to the Legislature to solve the rising malpractice insurance rates that doctors have been seeing.
“The Senate president and the speaker of the House are keenly aware of the situation — and some say the crisis — existing around medical malpractice in Massachusetts. They feel that the reduction in interest will offer some immediate solutions and the two commissions could very possibly offer longer-range solutions,” said the source.
Currently, plaintiffs who win medical malpractice lawsuits are entitled to their award, plus 12 percent interest dating back to the day they were harmed. The Legislature’s proposal would institute a variable rate that would be “more reflective of rates in our society” – and would stand right now at about 5 percent, the source said.
Frank Fortin, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Medical Society, didn’t immediately have a comment.
But lawyers who specialize in malpractice cases cried foul.
The idea behind cutting the interest on malpractice awards is that reducing the amount of money plaintiffs receive in malpractice cases will eventually lead to a reduction in the premiums that doctors pay for malpractice insurance, said David Bikofsky, president of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys.
But Bikofsky said he didn’t think reducing the interest on the awards would address the problem of high premiums.
“The problem of increased medical malpractice liability premiums is an insurance industry problem,” he said, charging that the industry is raising rates because of reversals it has suffered in the financial markets.
David White-Lief, a Boston attorney who specializes in medical malpractice cases, said, “I think it’s a disappointing day for Massachusetts consumers that the Legislature is reducing the possibility of fair compensation for medical malpractice awards.”
“It’s also unfortunate that the doctors have been duped by the insurance companies and believe that the malpractice crisis is caused by frivolous lawsuits,” he said. “What’s unfortunate is that because of the marketplace, the insurance companies are losing money on investments and taking it out on the doctors in premiums.”
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