A bill with a panoply of untried malpractice reforms, such as investigating attorneys who file too many frivolous lawsuits and doctors who get sued too often, passed the North Carolina Senate and will go to the House in May.
The North Carolina Medical Society says it is disappointed with SB 802. The group says the bill does not call for a cap on noneconomic damages, limits on attorney's contingency fees and elimination of double recoveries, and that its provision for installment payments for jury awards does not go far enough.
Senators who developed the new bill told the Raleigh News & Observer that a cap would not pass constitutional muster because it would limit payouts.
"The bill is considered somewhat experimental," says society spokesperson Mike Edwards. "But these are untried attempts to deal with the situation. Because it is unproven, we've got to study it very carefully."
The Senate, meeting in special session Tuesday, passed the bill by a vote of 27-19, but the House, which did not go into special session, will wait until a short session next year to vote on the bill, Edwards says.
The bill includes several other features:
- After a case is filed, an expert panel would assess its merits. Either side could go forward, but if the panel recommendation were upheld, the loser would pay the winner's legal expenses.
- Juries' awards could not exceed the figure proposed by either side in the case.
- Apologies to patients or offers to correct mistakes could not be used against defendants in court.
- Internal reviews of medical mistakes by hospitals or nursing homes would be shielded from plaintiffs' attorneys.
- State regulation of malpractice premiums.
- Establishing state funds to help cover doctors' and hospitals' insurance costs.