Not So Fast: Tenn. Med-Mal Bill May Not Be Dead After All

April 2, 2007

Tennessee House Judiciary Chairman Rob Briley has backed off his earlier threat to scuttle a proposed legislative compromise on medical malpractice lawsuits.

The Senate Judiciary Committee last week advanced the medical malpractice bill to a full Senate vote. The proposal seeks to cut down on frivolous lawsuits against doctors by requiring attorneys to pre-certify the merits of their cases with independent medical experts.

Briley, D-Nashville, had stormed out of the Senate committee hearing last Tuesday, complaining that Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris had broken an agreement over one element of the compromise.

Norris, of Collierville, denied that he had broken his word.

Briley said that instead of working to torpedo the measure he will now add the omitted item to the House version of the measure, and then have the two chambers work out their differences if the bill passes.

The disagreement between Briley and the Republican sponsors of the bill centers around the “locality rule” for medical experts testifying in malpractice trials.

Briley wants to allow medical experts to qualify based on an understanding of statewide medical practices, in an effort to be able to draw witnesses from wider geographical area.

Current law allows the witnesses to come from any state bordering Tennessee, but requires them to be experts on the medical standards of the same or similar community where the defendant doctor practices.

Briley said the current rules make it too easy for defense lawyers to discredit doctors who don’t know many specific details of how a local hospital operates, but are otherwise soundly grounded in standard statewide medical practices.

Defense lawyers, meanwhile, are also more likely to find local doctors who will testify on their colleagues’ behalf, and who have a better grasp of local operations — even if they are not directly relevant to the malpractice case, Briley said.

Norris disputed whether defense lawyers have an easier time finding expert witnesses, noting that most doctors prefer to stay out of litigation.

Briley said he plans to let the Senate pass its version of the bill before taking it up in a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee as soon as next week.

The compromise over medical malpractice lawsuits has evolved out of an agreement between Norris and Briley to leave out the caps on lawsuit awards that have long been called for by the Tennessee Medical Association.


Read the full text of SB2001 on the General Assembly’s Web site at:

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