Texas Medical Malpractice Reform Legislation Signed Into Law

June 13, 2003

Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law reform legislation designed ease the medical malpractice crisis and ensure that all Texans have access to quality, affordable health care.

The measure, House Bill 4, includes a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in jury awards. Proponents of the bill say that exorbitant punitive awards drive up malpractice rates. The cap applies to all doctors involved in a case to deter trial lawyers from skirting the reforms by suing every doctor who saw the patient. In addition, there is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages against a single institution and a $500,000 cap on all health-care institutions combined. Additional liability limits for hospitals that provide charity care will help make sure health care remains accessible to the neediest Texans.

Perry had declared medical malpractice reform an emergency issue for the 78th Texas Legislature, which wrapped up in early June.

The governor’s office said doctors across the state have seen skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates, and insurance carriers have refused to renew some policies—even for doctors who have never had a malpractice claim filed against them.

“We are removing the incentive personal injury trial lawyers currently have to file frivolous lawsuits and run doctors out of business,” Perry said. “And it is worth pointing out that Texans wrongfully harmed by an act of malpractice will still be able to recover the full amount of their medical bills and lost wages and, in some cases, punitive damages if determined by a unanimous jury.”

Other provisions of the new legislation include:
· Requiring a plaintiff to provide an expert witness report from a qualified physician within four months of filing suit. This will prevent lawyers from dragging out frivolous lawsuits.
· Tightening up the Good Samaritan law to make it easier for a health care professional to provide emergency care to someone in need without fear of a lawsuit.
· Creating a Texas Medical Disclosure panel to draft a list of common risks which need to be disclosed to patients before they consent to a procedure.

The governor noted that the lawsuit reform measures in HB4 will protect other businesses from frivolous lawsuits as well and provide another incentive for companies to create jobs and make investments in Texas.

“With this comprehensive lawsuit reform measure, we are ending costly and intentional legal delays, requiring reasonable attorneys’ fees in class action lawsuits, and removing the incentive for trial lawyers to file frivolous lawsuits,” Perry said. “We will save thousands of jobs, generate millions in new revenue to the state, and protect patient access to quality health care.”

Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, authored HB4. Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, sponsored the bill in the Senate.

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