Nevada Malpractice Bill Hearing Met with Opposition

By DEB WEINSTEIN | May 19, 2011

Supporters said Tuesday that a Nevada bill allowing lawyers to correct clerical errors in malpractice lawsuits would be a saving grace for victims, but opponents contended it’s not specific enough and would encourage sloppy filings.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on AB149, which would allow attorneys to submit affidavits in medical and dental malpractice lawsuits later if they were not attached at the time of filing due to clerical error.

Current law gives malpractice plaintiffs one year to file a complete legal complaint accompanied by an expert affidavit that identifies the points of disputed care. If the affidavit is not attached to the complaint, attorneys must refile within the one-year period or the complaint is thrown out.

AB149 would buy attorneys and plaintiffs more time if the affidavit is accidentally left out of the complaint and if the contents of the affidavit is described in the accompanying paperwork.

Attorney Brett Carter told lawmakers that it would not alter requirements that there be expert testimony to support a malpractice claim. “That expert must still be hired. That expert must still be identified. That expert must still review the records,” he said.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said most legal complaints can be amended.

Segerblom, the bill’s sponsor, said when the state changed the statute of limitations for malpractice lawsuits from two years to one in 2004, the petition initiative neglected to include a corrective provision, such as attaching an affidavit.

The result is that if a year lapses and the affidavit is not attached, the lawsuit won’t go anywhere because the supporting documents were not included.

“This law, this amendment, would just conform with the current law to meet with other laws,” said Segerblom.

Opponents said the measure is not specific enough and would provide an attorney free-for-all.

Las Vegas attorney John Cotton told the committee by teleconference that the bill does nothing to “to stop somebody from filing lawsuits now and shopping around for an expert.”

Cotton said the law already gives attorneys an out by letting them refile their claim before the year is out.

Judiciary committee member Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said he was offended by the measure.

“We’re helping out lawyers here who, from my perspective, aren’t doing their job. As a lawyer, I’m just saying I have a problem with that,” he said.

Opponents said the complaint damages a doctor’s standing because they have to tell malpractice insurers when a complaint has been filed.

They said the current law protects doctors by requiring a complete filing to be legitimate, and that AB149 would have the same negative impact without the authoritative paperwork.

The Nevada Orthopaedic Association lobbyist Kathleen Conaboy said the looser filing requirements could overwhelm doctors with malpractice claims and force many to settle cases just to get out from under them.

Carter offered a possible compromise, saying that the language could be tweaked to make the affidavit description requirements in the complaint more specific. The attorney said it could address concerns that the bill would let attorneys seek supporting evidence for the claim at a later date.

Segerblom told the committee there was nothing nefarious in the measure.

“We’re trying to protect the victim. Not the lawyers and not the doctors,” he said.

No action was taken on the bill.

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