Federal Medical Liability Reform Bill Pending Senate Judiciary Review

July 26, 2017

A bill introduced earlier this year provides tort caps and outlines a statute of limitations on claims against doctors and medical providers. The legislation, passed by the House of Representatives last month, is pending Senate judiciary review where a companion bill is expected to be introduced.

Last month, PIAA, an association representing the medical and healthcare professional liability (MPL/HPL) insurance community, praised the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the bill — the first comprehensive medical liability reform legislation to be passed by either chamber of Congress in more than five years.

“This vote represents a major victory for tort reform advocates,” said PIAA Vice President of Government Relations & Public Policy Mike Stinson. “We are now one step closer to enacting federal medical liability reforms that will reduce the non-meritorious litigation that undermines the physician-patient relationship. This legislation will truly benefit both patients and healthcare professionals alike.”

Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, introduced by Representative Steve King, establishes provisions governing healthcare lawsuits where coverage for the care was provided or subsidized by the federal government, including through a subsidy or tax benefit. The bill does not preempt certain state laws and federal vaccine injury laws and rules.

H.R. 1215 includes unlimited compensation for economic losses, reasonable caps on subjective non-economic damages, limits on attorney contingency fees, periodic payment of future damages and a statute of limitations. According to the PIAA, unlike previous federal bills, however, the bill is focused solely on healthcare professionals and entities, includes more flexibility for states than previous federal medical liability reform bills, and applies only to medical liability claims involving care provided through the expenditure of federal dollars (including federal tax benefits).

The bill calls for a statute of limitations three years after the injury or one year after the claimant discovers the injury, whichever occurs first. For a minor, the statute of limitations is three years after the injury, except for a minor under six years old, for whom it is three years after the injury, one year after discovery of the injury, or the minor’s eighth birthday, whichever occurs later.

Non-economic damages would be limited to $250,000 and juries would not be informed of the limitation. However, the bill doesn’t preempt state laws that specify a particular monetary amount of damages. Parties are liable for the amount of damages directly proportional to their responsibility.

Courts must supervise the payment of damages and may restrict attorney contingency fees. The bill sets limits on contingency fees.

Certain evidence regarding collateral source benefits (e.g., insurance payments) may be introduced in lawsuits involving injury or wrongful death. Providers of collateral source benefits may not recover any amount from the claimant in such a lawsuit. These provisions do not apply if Medicare is a secondary payer or there is third party liability for Medicaid services.

The bill provides for periodic payment of future damage awards.

In addition a healthcare provider who prescribes, or dispenses pursuant to a prescription, a medical product approved by the Food and Drug Administration would not be a party to a product liability lawsuit or a class action lawsuit regarding the medical product.

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