N.C. Trial Lawyers Accuse Malpractice Insurer of Illegal Rates

An association of trial lawyers has accused North Carolina’s largest medical malpractice insurer of violating state law by charging doctors excessive rates, but the company said its rates are reasonable.

The North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers is pushing for an investigation into the rates charged by Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of North Carolina. State law bars medical malpractice insurers from charging excessive rates.

The company’s rates have “crossed the legal threshold,” said Dick Taylor, chief executive officer of the trial lawyers academy. The group on Tuesday asked state Insurance Commissioner Jim Long to investigate.

Medical Mutual defended its practices and questioned the academy’s motives.

“Here you have the organization that represents the people who regularly make a living suing doctors, and now they want you to believe they are the watchdogs on behalf of these doctors,” said David Sousa, Medical Mutual’s general counsel. “That is a little bit like the fox guarding the hen house.”

Sousa said the company’s rates are “absolutely reasonable.”

Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for the state insurance department, said the agency is not ruling out an inquiry but will review the lawyers’ report first.

Physicians have long contended that large malpractice lawsuits have contributed to climbing insurance rates and rising medical costs. Trial lawyers argue that insurance companies, not malpractice lawsuits, are to blame.

Information from: The News & Observer,