The Iowa Legislature is considering bills in both its House and Senate that would “reform” its medical malpractice laws. As one example, Senate Study Bill No. 1054 would add a requirement for a certificate of merit affidavit to be filed for each expert who is expected to testify to the issues of standard of care or causation in medical malpractice cases. SSB 1054 would also limit the amount of noneconomic damages (nonpecuniary losses such as pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life) that a victim of medical malpractice in Iowa may recover to one million dollars.
Iowa House File 579 would require that medical malpractice lawsuits be reviewed by a medical malpractice review panel for “validity of the action.” Court proceedings would be stayed (that is, put on the back burner) until 30 days after the medical malpractice review panel issues its findings. Within six months of the appointment of the members of the medical malpractice review panel (which period can be extended), the panel would be required to hold a hearing to review the plaintiff’s claims and the defendant’s defenses. The panel must then issue its findings within thirty days after the submission of all presentations and evidence, answering the following questions: 1) Whether the acts or omissions complained of constitute a deviation from the applicable standard of care by the health care provider charged with such care. 2) Whether the acts or omissions complained of proximately caused the injury complained of. 3) If negligence on the part of a health care provider is found, whether any negligence on the part of the plaintiff was equal to or greater than the negligence of the health care provider.
House File 579 provides that the review panel’s findings are admissible as evidence in any subsequent action between the parties. If the review panel’s findings are unanimous and unfavorable to the plaintiff in such a manner as would not permit recovery by the plaintiff if the answers were made at trial, all of the following shall apply: (1) If the action proceeds and results in a verdict and judgment for the defendant, the plaintiff shall be required to pay all expert witness fees and court costs incurred by the defendant. (2) If the action proceeds and results in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff, any noneconomic damages awarded to the plaintiff shall not exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars.
If the review panel’s findings are unanimous and unfavorable to the defendant, all of the following shall apply: (1) The defendant shall promptly admit liability or enter into negotiations to pay the plaintiff’s claim for damages. (2) If liability is admitted, the claim may be resubmitted to the review panel upon agreement of the plaintiff and the defendant for a determination of damages. Any determination of damages by the review panel shall be admissible in any subsequent action. (3) If liability is not admitted and the parties are not able to resolve the claim through settlement negotiations within thirty days after service of the review panel’s findings, the plaintiff may proceed with the action. If the plaintiff obtains a verdict or judgment in excess of the plaintiff’s last formal demand after the settlement negotiations following the review panel’s findings, the defendant shall be required to pay all expert witness fees and court costs incurred by the plaintiff.
House File 579 also provides that in medical malpractice actions, the health care provider may assert, as an affirmative defense, that the health care provider complied with “evidence-based medical practice guidelines” in the diagnosis and treatment of a patient. A judge may admit evidence-based medical practice guidelines into evidence if introduced only by a health care provider or by the health care provider’s employer and if the health care provider or the health care provider’s employer establishes foundational evidence in support of the evidence-based medical practice guidelines as well as evidence that the health care provider complied with the guidelines. Evidence of departure from an evidence-based medical practice guideline is admissible only on the issue of whether the health care provider is entitled to assert an affirmative defense.
“Evidence-based medical practice guidelines” means voluntary medical practice parameters or protocols established and released through a recognized physician consensus-building organization approved by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, through the American Medical Association’s physician consortium for performance improvement or similar activity, or through a recognized national medical specialty society.
Are These So-Called Medical Malpractice Tort Reforms Necessary In Iowa?
No. In a March 2010 report from the Office of Statewide Clinical Education Programs, UI Carver College of Medicine, regarding the results from a survey of the reasons why Iowa physicians had left Iowa in 2007 and in 2008, it was found that only one out of 220 respondents indicated that “professional liability” was the most important reason for relocation and only one out of 220 respondents stated that lower liability insurance rates could have kept them from relocating. Only ten out of 220 respondents cited “professional liability” as a practice factor in deciding to relocate.
If you, a family member, or a friend were injured or suffered other harms as a result of medical malpractice in Iowa, you should promptly consult with an Iowa medical malpractice attorney regarding your possible Iowa medical malpractice claim.
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