Some Nevada Lawmakers Seek Review of Malpractice Caps

March 20, 2008

A health scare linked to unsafe practices at surgical centers across Nevada is prompting some lawmakers to press for a review concerning a voter-imposed cap on medical malpractice punitive damage awards.

While most support the caps — which limit awards to $350,000 for pain and suffering — some key lawmakers said they would support reinstating exemptions for gross negligence or extreme cases.

They say the hepatitis C outbreak linked to unsanitary syringe use at a Las Vegas clinic is a prime example of an extreme case for which victims deserve better compensation. Six patients have been sickened and 40,000 more are at risk.

A three-year shield that prevented the Legislature from touching the voter-approved 2004 law expired late last year.

Sen. Mark Amodei and Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, chairmen of their respective judiciary committees, said they would support reinstating the exemption for gross negligence. The exemption was part of emergency legislation passed by the Legislature in 2002.

Their committees would be responsibile for working on legislation affecting the caps.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, also is in favor of revisiting the issue.

But Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, who is married to a physician, said lawmakers should focus on better regulatory mechanisms instead of the caps.

“I would be wary of opening all the malpractice caps given that could really be devastating to access to care in this state,” Gansert told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

In 2002, the departure of the state’s two largest malpractice insurance providers triggered a crisis. Malpractice rates soared and some doctors left the state.

The Legislature passed emergency tort reform, creating the $350,000 cap with the gross negligence exception.

Unhappy with the law, the state’s doctors successfully pushed the initiative petition in 2004.

Since then, the malpractice insurance market in Nevada has stabilized.

Gov. Jim Gibbons, who has favored pain-and-suffering caps, will consider all avenues to addressing the health clinics, said spokesman Dan Burns.

“When it comes to fixing this problem, everything will be on the table because this will never happen again,” Burns said.

Source: Reno Gazette-Journal.

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