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Caps just part of rift between two chambers

With the House bill passed and the Senate version shaping up, many issues come to light.

Published April 6, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Anyone watching the medical malpractice debate in the Legislature the past few months might think it's about one issue: a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages.

That's the issue that has most deeply divided lawmakers, with the House pro and the Senate con, and it's the issue that brought 3,000 doctors to the Old Capitol lawn last month in protest.

Yet the issue is far more complex issue than that, involving concepts like "bad faith," "sovereign immunity" and "presuit mediation."

The House has passed its medical malpractice package and is waiting for action from the Senate.

The Senate has consolidated most of the multiple medical malpractice bills it had into a three-bill package the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up Monday.

The House bill (HB 1713) would:

Institute a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages.

Require expert witnesses to be in the same medical specialty as the defendant.

Establish criteria to determine when an insurer has acted in bad faith to a doctor in settling or defending 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.

Extend the "presuit notification period," a grace period in which a patient must notify a doctor of his intent to sue, to 180 days, from the current 90. It also would require mediation before the 180 days are up.

The Senate bill package was not available Saturday. But the multiple bills considered so far have included many of the same elements in the House bill, minus the cap, and those are considered likely to remain in the package.

A cap on pain and suffering damages isn't expected in the bill, but Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, said Thursday that sovereign immunity for emergency medical care would be in the package.

Such immunity would mean a doctor giving emergency care would have a cap of $100,000 on all damages, pain and suffering as well as economic damages for medical costs and lost wages.

The pain and suffering cap passed by the House, on the other hand, still allows a patient to collect uncapped economic damages.

King said Thursday that he thought it was the fastest way to bring relief to trauma centers, which have been closing around the state.

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, said Friday that he hadn't seen the Senate proposal and didn't know whether it would be welcomed in the House.

[Last modified April 6, 2003, 01:01:51]

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