Mich. governor signs medical malpractice reform into law

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jan 18, 2013

LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) -- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder last week signed into law a so-called Patients First Reform Package, aimed at restoring and improving tort reform measures passed in the state 20 years ago.

The package, comprised of Senate Bills 1115 and 1118, was approved by both the House and Senate in the fall and signed into law by Snyder Jan. 9. The bills are now Public Acts 608 and 609.

SB 1115, in particular, clarifies that loss of society or companionship constitutes noneconomic damages and is therefore subject to Michigan's noneconomic damages limit. The bill also provides how future damages are calculated to prevent judicial errors in reducing awards to present value.

SB 1118 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.

The bills also close what lawmakers have called a "confusing legal loophole" that allows unnecessary suits to be filed.

Previous measures, passed in 1993, established various protections against meritless cases and disproportionate jury awards. However, supporters of the package said those measures were eroded over time by "activist court rulings."

"The governor and state legislature took action to put patients first," said Dr. John G. Bizon, president of the 16,000-member Michigan State Medical Society. "By supporting reforms that protect Michigan seniors, children and families, and empowering physicians to keep their eyes fixed on what is best for their patients, lawmakers stood up for quality health care."

Bizon said the "common sense reforms" were a "tremendous" first step towards a healthier state and better access to care.

"Physicians across the state applaud the governor and look forward to working with the legislators on additional efforts that put Michigan patients first," he said in a statement last week.

MSMS initiated the legislation, with help from medical malpractice insurer The Doctors Company and its trade organization, the Michigan Insurance Coalition.

"The passage of this legislation is a tremendous win for Michigan's physicians as it mitigates the need to practice defensive medicine," said Dr. Richard E. Anderson, chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company.

The Doctors Company, founded by doctors for doctors in 1976, is the nation's largest medical malpractice insurer, with 73,000 members and $4 billion in assets.

State Sen. Roger Kahn, one of the package's sponsors, said in a statement last month that the now-law would make Michigan a more appealing state to start a medical practice.

"This package of legislation is a great first step toward making Michigan a contender in attracting and retaining high quality physicians," he said.

"The health needs of citizens across the state continue to grow, and we need to make sure Michiganders are getting the best care possible. Without changes, Michigan will continue to lose qualified doctors and many physicians will choose to open and maintain their practices in other states."

Kahn pointed to recent studies projecting that by 2020 Michigan will have a physician shortage of more than 4,500 doctors in fields like pediatrics, family practice and general and internal medicine.

The lawmaker said many of Michigan's cities and urban areas with the largest populations are already underserved, and access to physicians in these areas could have become even more difficult to obtain without action.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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