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House approves medical malpractice bill

The $250,000 limit on pain and suffering damages will likely stall in the Senate.

By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 22, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- Undeterred by the Senate's opposition to capping jury awards, the House on Friday passed a medical malpractice bill that includes a $250,000 limit on how much a plaintiff can be awarded in damages for pain and suffering.

The bill (HB 1713) now heads to the Senate, where it likely could receive a chilly response. A Senate committee on Thursday killed pain-and-suffering caps, though they could be restored in committee meetings.

The House bill was debated in just one committee before it went before the full House and was approved 95-19. Although the bill takes a three-pronged approach to the medical malpractice liability insurance crisis -- patient safety, insurance relief and lawsuit limits -- neither the House Judiciary nor Insurance committee ever heard the bill. It is designed to stop the skyrocketing liability insurance premiums that doctors and hospitals say are driving them out of business.

Nonetheless, House members who supported the bill called it the right solution.

"This bill will keep our ERs open and our good doctors in the state of Florida," said Rep. Ed Homan, R-Tampa, an orthopedic surgeon.

Besides capping pain-and-suffering damages the House bill would:

Make more information about doctors' histories available to the public. For example, hospitals must tell the state when they discipline a doctor or suspend his or her privileges, but that information is not public. Under this bill, the Department of Health would note in its online physician profile when a doctor was disciplined.

Require hospitals and doctors to tell patients if they were accidentally harmed during a procedure. But the information could not be used in a lawsuit.

Create a Health Care Professional Liability Insurance Facility to provide extra insurance for physicians willing and able to self-insure for the additional coverage.

Require both parties to go to mediation to try to settle a lawsuit.

Require that expert medical witnesses be specialists in the same field as the doctor being sued. Experts also would have to prove they are familiar with the illness or injury.

Some Democrats balked at the bill, saying its lack of a freeze or rollback on actual liability insurance premiums rendered it ineffective.

"This bill has no provision that lowers the premiums. Unless we lower the premiums, I'm not sure why we are going through this exercise," said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Fort Lauderdale.

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