Nevada Legislature Passes Malpractice Insurance Cap, but Concerns Persist
The Nevada Legislature on Thursday morning passed a bill that would cap damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. The bill would set a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in most cases and a $50,000 civil liability cap on noneconomic damages in lawsuits against trauma care physicians (Babula, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 8/2). The legislation includes two exceptions to the cap: cases in which there was "gross malpractice" or "clear and convincing" evidence that the award should exceed the cap. As part of the agreement, hospital officials must report all medical errors to the state, and doctors will only be responsible for their portion of fault in cases involving noneconomic damages (Whaley/Vogel, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 8/1). The measure was passed in a special legislative session called by Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) to address the state's malpractice insurance crisis, which began last fall when insurers began increasing premiums for physicians three- and fourfold. Many physicians opted to leave the state, retire early, eliminate services or stop accepting new patients. A "mass resignations" of surgeons also led to the temporary closure of Las Vegas' only trauma center at University Medical Center (California Healthline, 7/15).
Although the bill was passed with the goal of alleviating the state's malpractice insurance problems, Sheila Wright, a spokesperson for a Nevada malpractice insurer, cautioned that insurance premiums will not "go down tomorrow," adding, "It takes time for these laws to work themselves out." The legislation has been criticized as "too vague," with language that is "open to [constitutional] interpretation by the courts." According to the Review-Journal, at least six states have passed similar legislative caps that were later ruled unconstitutional in state supreme courts for violating an injured person's right to a trial by jury. Physicians said they will "wait and see" if their premiums drop before they determine whether or not they will remain in the state, accept new patients, or provide "high risk" services (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 8/2). As many as 147 physicians already have left the state, retired early or are "seriously considering" closing their practices because they can't afford the malpractice insurance rates or cannot find the insurance they need, according to the Nevada State Medical Association (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 8/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.