Tenn. House Leader Blames Republicans for Med Mal Failure

March 29, 2007

Tennessee House Judiciary Chairman Rob Briley on Tuesday said a compromise over medical malpractice lawsuits will not be passed because Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris reneged on part of the agreement.

Briley, D-Nashville, said Norris’ presentation to the Senate Judiciary Committee did not use agreed-upon language about the “locality rule,” a regulation about what geographical region lawyers can draw their expert witnesses from.

Norris introduced the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee as one that would require lawyers suing doctors in malpractice cases to pre-certify the legitimacy of their claims by gaining approval from independent experts. The committee approved the bill 9-0, sending it to a full Senate vote.

Norris, a malpractice defense lawyer from Collierville, told the committee that there wasn’t enough time to include language about the locality rule in the version presented Tuesday.

“During my negotiations, the locality rule amendment was in and out,” he said. “An amendment has been prepared, but as I took the bench (Tuesday), there had not been adequate time to allow for discussion.”

Briley told The Associated Press that Norris was being untruthful and that the senator had “choked” on the agreement. Briley stormed out of the Senate committee room early in the discussion about the measure and promised to kill the companion version in a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee next week.

“Norris thinks I’ll blink,” Briley said. “But I’ll pull the trigger.”

Norris said Briley wanted to expand the rules to allow experts to come from anywhere in the state. Current rules require experts to work in the same or similar community in which the lawsuit was filed.

Some lawyers say it can be difficult to find doctors who will testify against their colleagues in the same community.

“Obviously Chairman Briley thought we were gaining something and that the trial lawyers weren’t,” said Gary Zelizer, lobbyist for the Tennessee Medical Association. “We don’t think that’s the case.”

Norris disputed the accuracy of Briley’s accusations and encouraged him to add the amendment about locality rules to the House version of the bill. “Maybe in the fullness of time, cooler heads will prevail,” he said.

Briley has represented the interests of plaintiffs’ lawyers in the negotiations, while Norris and Rep. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, are the sponsors of the measure originally intended to place caps on damages from lawsuits.

The negotiations had earlier resulted in an agreement to remove the caps from consideration this year in return for a requirement for lawyers suing doctors to pre-certify the legitimacy of their claims with independent experts.

The agreement also sought to improve access to medical records earlier in the lawsuit process.

“I didn’t trick (Briley) on this, and I wouldn’t do that anyway,” Norris said.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said he voted for the measure, but reserved the right to introduce amendments on the Senate floor.

Senators from both parties praised Norris’ work with representatives from both sides of the issue in crafting the legislation.

“It’s one thing to come up here with grand plans of that something that may not pass, but what you’ve done is bring both parties together,” Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, said.


Read the full text of SB2001 on the General Assembly’s Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us

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