Medical Malpractice Suits Drop with New Requirements

The number of medical malpractice cases filed in Tennessee has dropped 60% this year. The steep decline in lawsuits stems from two new screening requirements.

The General Assembly passed a watered-down tort reform bill in 2008. It requires attorneys to give notice 60 days before filing a medical malpractice claim. They also have to get third party certification from a doctor or nurse that their lawsuit has some merit.

State Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville defends doctors and hospitals as an attorney. He sponsored the legislation and says its effectiveness proves how many “frivolous suits” – in his words – were being filed.

“It shows that our study was accurate in terms of the number of cases that were filed needlessly. Often times, attorneys would file a claim just to keep the statute of limitations from running.”

A legislative study found 80% of medical malpractice suits in Tennessee ended in no payout. Norris says anytime doctors are sued, even if the claims are baseless, they must notify their insurance provider. That, he says, drives up malpractice insurance rates, and that cost is passed on to patients.

Norris says the decline in medical malpractice claims hasn’t yet been felt by doctors who buy pricey insurance to protect themselves.

“Now we’re waiting to see if the medical malpractice insurance premiums, in turn, come down. We’ve only had about a year to watch this, but with 60% fewer cases filed, I’m hopeful.”

Norris says a drop in premiums for doctors could mean lower billing rates for patients down the line.

With so much controversy at the state and national level around tort reform, Norris says simple laws to weed out what he calls “frivolous lawsuits” could potentially lower costs throughout the healthcare system.

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