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    Malpractice reforms head to the Senate

    ©Associated Press
    April 10, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- Protection from lawsuit damages for emergency room workers, a rollback of insurance rates and an effort to cut medical errors are part of a broad measure aiming to lower doctors' insurance costs that is headed to the Senate floor.

    The package of reforms was approved Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Doctors and hospitals say they can't afford to keep doing certain procedures because of soaring malpractice insurance premiums, and they largely blame lawsuit losses.

    "We have the basis for a solid, responsive answer to Florida's malpractice crisis," said Senate President Jim King, after the committee finished its work.

    The measure sets out to address the problem immediately by requiring insurance companies in most cases to roll back their rates to where they were in 2001 and hold them there for a year. It's a provision despised by the few companies that still write malpractice insurance in the state.

    The measure also seeks to solve the problem over the long haul by giving emergency room workers the same protection from lawsuits enjoyed by government agencies.

    Doctors are not completely satisfied by the measure in large part because the Senate has firmly rejected imposing a cap on noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits. That proposal has been vigorously opposed by lawyers and malpractice victims' advocates.

    The House has passed a bill that includes such a ceiling, limiting damages to compensate victims of malpractice for noneconomic losses, such as the death of a loved one, to $250,000.

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