Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation last week that strengthens the state’s medical malpractice tort laws and provides additional protection against lawsuits to physicians.
The Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS) initiated the legislation, known as the “Patients First Reform Package,” with support from medical malpractice insurer The Doctors Company and its trade organization, the Michigan Insurance Coalition. The legislation is comprised of Senate Bill 1115 – which clarifies that loss of society or companionship constitutes noneconomic damages and is therefore subject to Michigan’s noneconomic damages limit – and Senate Bill 1118 – which limits the time period for suing on behalf of a deceased person and bans prejudgment interest on costs and attorney fees incurred during the time before a judgment is issued.
“In general, physicians are supportive of tort reforms that keep them out of the courtroom and keep them in the operating room,” said Colin Ford, MSMS’ senior director of state and federal government relations. “It’s good when the rules are clear to both sides and fair to both sides.”
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Ford noted that the legislation is not intended to bar all lawsuits from reaching the courtroom.
“When people have a justifiable reason to go to court, they still have access, but we are doing anything we can do to limit (unwarranted) cases from going to court,” he said.
Ford also believes the new legislation will decrease the prevalence of defensive medicine and reduce the burden on doctors who often fear being the target of a lawsuit. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the cost of defensive medicine, it is generally thought to add 10 to 20 percent to the annual cost of healthcare nationwide.
“(The legislation) allows doctors to practice the way they were trained to do instead of out of fear of being sued,” said Ford.
In a press release issued shortly after the legislation was signed, Richard E. Anderson, MD, chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company, agreed that the tort reform is a victory for the state’s physicians. “The passage of this legislation is a tremendous win for Michigan’s physicians as it mitigates the need to practice defensive medicine,” he said.