Wash. Physicians Urge Legislators for Medical Liability Reform

February 4, 2003

Nearly 300 physicians from across Washington state met in Olympia to urge legislators to pass medical liability reform recently.

Washington physicians, reeling from rapidly increasing medical malpractice premiums, are facing some tough choices. Many are limiting high risk services such as delivering babies. Still others have chosen to retire early, move their practice to neighboring states or close their doors altogether as they try to grapple with the nearly impossible financial burden of soaring malpractice rates combined with decreasing reimbursements for their services.

Since 1975, malpractice premiums for OB/GYNs in Washington state have increased 1,164 percent. Neurological surgeons have seen their premiums increase 1,136 percent and family physicians have seen an increase of 878 percent. Washington state has been pinpointed by both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as a state facing a liability crisis.

The WSMA, which advocates for patients and their physicians, is aggressively urging the state legislature to reform current laws to put fairness and balance into the system. The proposed reforms include: providing a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages; establishing a sliding scale cap on plaintiff attorneys’ contingency fees; raising the burden of proof in medical malpractice cases from a preponderance of the evidence to a standard of having to be clear cogent and convincing; changing joint and several liability provisions so that defendants will only be responsible for their proportionate share of the fault; and reducing the period in which plaintiffs can sue to within three years of when the injury occurred.

Similar reforms have been successful in California for over 27 years. According to Physician Insurers Association of America, since the reforms (known as MICRA) were enacted in 1975, more money has been returned to the injured party and that money is returned faster. In addition, malpractice premiums have remained under control. From 1975 – 2000, the average national increase in malpractice premiums was 505 percent while the increase in California was 167 percent for the same period.

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