Tenn. House Panel Moves Med Mal Bill

A proposal to limit medical malpractice lawsuits in Tennessee advanced Tuesday out of the House subcommittee where it faced its biggest challenge for passage.

The civil practice subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on a voice vote after approving an amendment from House Judiciary Chairman Rob Briley, D-Nashville.

The bill seeks to limit lawsuits by requiring more notice to be given to defense lawyers about potential medical malpractice cases, and to require plaintiffs’ lawyers to get certification from medical experts that their claims are legitimate.

Briley’s most significant change to the measure previously passed by the Senate was to insert language to change 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 standards in an effort to be able to draw witnesses from a wider geographical area.

Current law allows 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 has argued that those rules make it too easy 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.

Rep. Tom DuBois, R-Columbia, said he worries that under the provision the doctors in his more rural district could be held up to the same standards of physicians from more prosperous hospitals in urban areas.

Briley responded that there’s nothing in the proposal that would prevent lawyers from making the argument that an expert’s experience doesn’t match the circumstances at local hospitals.

Rep. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, acknowledged the bill had changed significantly from the version he first sponsored. The current version hammered out by Overbey, Briley and Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris removed a provision to place caps on damages paid out to malpractice victims.

“I think this is a step forward, something that improves the process, and something that deserves the chance to work,” Overbey said.

The bill would still have to pass out of the House Judiciary Committee before it can reach a full floor vote. Any differences between the House and Senate versions would have to be worked out in a conference committee.