TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Friday, April 22, 2016

AR: Tort Reform by Ballot

On Wednesday, Arkansas's attorney general approved the wording of a proposed ballot item to amend the constitution that would instruct the state's legislature to set a cap on punies in med mal cases at no less than $250,000.  It would have to be adjusted for inflation every 2 years.  Lawyers would also be prohibited from charging over one-third as a contingency fee.  With the approval, the sponsor can begin gathering the 84,859 signatures needed to place the proposal on the November ballot.  (Via Arkansas News)  Punies in med mal cases are extremely rare, but, if awarded, tend to be in high amounts.

April 22, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

FL: Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of "Ex Parte Communications" Med Mal Reform

In 2013, the Florida legislature passed a med mal reform requiring claimants filing lawsuits to sign forms authorizing ex parte communications:

In ex parte communications, for example, defense attorneys representing a doctor accused of malpractice could get personal health information about the patient involved in the case. That information could come from other doctors who treated the patient, and disclosure could occur without the patient's attorney being present.

In October of 2014, the Eleventh Circuit held that the reform did not violate HIPAA.  The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the law's constitutionality last year.  The Florida Supreme Court will now decide the issue.  A date for oral argument has not been set.  Health News Florida has details.

April 19, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 11, 2016

PA: Bill to Extend Sexual Abuse Statutes of Limitation Approved by House Judiciary Committee

In the wake of the grand jury report on sexual abuse of minors in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, the House Judiciary Committee approved the removal of statutes of limitation in sex crimes and extending the statute of limitations until the victim turns 50 years old for civil cases.  There was, however, no provision for a 2-year retroactive window to allow past victims to sue.  Pennlive has details.

April 11, 2016 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Conservative Opposition Derails Federal Med Mal Bill

I missed this earlier, but on Tuesday, the federal med mal bill in the House was (at least temporarily) derailed by Republican opposition that the bill disrespected federalism and invaded the province of the states.  The Hill has the story.

March 25, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

ABA Opposes Features of Federal Med Mal Bill

The ABA has sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte voicing opposition to:  (1) a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages, (2) several liability,  and (3) a provision allowing judges to reduce contingent fees for plaintiffs' attorneys.  The ABA Journal has the story, including a pdf of the letter.

March 23, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

IN: Senate Also Passes Med Mal Cap Increase

With a vote of 49-0, the Indiana Senate passed an increase in the med mal cap approved earlier by the House.  It now goes to the governor for his consideration.  The Indianapolis Star has details.

March 10, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 7, 2016

IN: Med Mal Cap Increase Passes House

The Indiana House passed, 90-5, an increase in the med mal cap from $1.25M to $1.8M by 2019.  Unlike the Judiciary Committee's proposal, there are no further increases.  Indiana's is one of the few caps that is total (not solely on noneconomic damages).

March 7, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 4, 2016

PA: Grand Jury Report on Sexual Abuse of Children in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese; Statute of Limitations Debate

On Tuesday, a grand jury report was issued regarding the sexual molestation of hundreds of children over a 40-year period in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.  The allegations are disturbing to read.  The report recommended abolishing the criminal statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors and opening a window to allow sexual abuse victims to bring civil claims.  Several bills have been introduced in the legislature.  Parallel bills by Rep. Mark Rozzi, himself a sex abuse survivor, and Sen. Rob Teplitz would give victims until the age of 50 to file suit (up from the current age of 30) and would open a brief window for those whose claims would be time-barred by the 50-year limit.  Sam Marshall, the President and CEO of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania opposes the bills:

"We are allowed to reserve only for claims that are possible. Once a statute of limitations has passed, we can't hold or reserve money for that because claims are no longer possible," Marshall said. He questioned whether the grand jury in making its recommendations gave any consideration of the insurance regulation aspect of it.

"I realize that's not the driving concern in any of this but it is from an insurance perspective," he said. "It's a question of how can you be liable for something they claim for which by law you weren't allowed to reserve money for. That's the challenge here."

The debate reminds me of one of Jeffrey O'Connell's favorite statements about the difficulty of mixing morality and mathematics, something that happens constantly with tort law and insurance.  Still the moral aspect of tort is very strong in this instance, not muted as it is in so many contexts.  PennLive has the story.  The Patriot News, in an editorial, supports the report's statute of limitations recommendations.

March 4, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

IN: House Panel Approves Med Mal Cap Increase

The House Judiciary Committee, 11-1, approved a $400,000 increase in the med mal cap, to a total of $1.65M.  It would gradually increase every 4 years until 2031, with a final cap of $2.25M.  The bill now goes to the full House, but may have trouble in the Senate. has the story.

March 1, 2016 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

IN: Med Mal Cap Increase Stalls

The author of a bill in the state senate to raise the med mal cap in Indiana admitted it was dead after affected groups (lawyers, hospitals, and insurers) failed to reach a consensus.  WFYI has details.

January 27, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 25, 2016

IN: Legislature to Consider Increase to Med Mal Cap

Today an Indiana Senate committee is debating an increase in the med mal cap from $1.25M to $1.65M, the first increase in 17 years.  The potential increase is driven by a desire to protect the cap from constitutional challenges:

The Illinois Supreme Court struck down a similar law in 2010 that capped jury payouts, ruling they were unconstitutional under the Illinois Constitution's "separation of powers" clause because juries were not able to determine fair damages. Caps have also been ruled unconstitutional in Alabama, Georgia, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington. has the story

January 25, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 22, 2016

NYT: Ted Cruz as Both Tort Reformer and PI Lawyer

The NYT is reporting that Ted Cruz worked as both a defender of tort reform (including caps) and a defender of large verdicts.  It's not unusual for lawyers to take cases on different sides of an issue, but as he is touting one side of his work to voters, this is information some of them may find troubling. 

January 22, 2016 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

USSC Lets Stand Dismissal of ATS Case

On Monday, the Court refused to take up the 9th Circuit's dismissal of an Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act case:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to revive a human rights lawsuit against Occidental Petroleum Corp and a security contractor that had accused them of complicity in a deadly 1998 bombing by Colombia's military of a village in the South American country.

The court left intact a November 2014 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stating that victims' families could not pursue claims against Occidental and Florida-based AirScan Inc under two U.S. human rights laws, the Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victims Protection Act.

These cases have been dismissed on a regular basis since the 2013 Kiobel ruling.  Reuters has the story.

December 16, 2015 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Med Mal Protections Do Not Apply to Sexual Assault Incidental to Medical Treatment

On Monday, I posted about defendants attempting to use med mal tort reform protections to make it harder to recover for falls in hospitals.  In a similar vein is a recent Alabama case in which a doctor attempted to invoke a prohibition against discovering and introducing at trial evidence of other malpractice to avoid the admission of the evidence as modus operandi (FRE 404(b)(2) or state equivalent).  The claim, however, was that the doctor had sexually assaulted the plaintiff during the course of medical treatment.  In Ex parte Vanderwall, — So.3d —- 2015 WL 5725153 (Ala. 2015), the Alabama Supreme Court held the prohibition only applies in med mal cases, which do not include cases of sexual assault.  The plaintiff was, therefore, able to use past instances of sexual misconduct incidental to medical treatment as proof that the doctor responsible for that misconduct assaulted her as well.  Alex Stein has more blogging at Harvard's Bill of Health. 

November 19, 2015 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Risk Management at U.S. Hospitals: Hard Times

According to a study published this week in Aon's annual benchmark analysis of hospital and professional liability, the average cost of closed claims with indemnity at U.S hospitals ($459,000) is near an all-time high.  The effects of tort reform are an issue:

However, the experience of so-called tort reform states – where non-economic damages have been capped by statute – is particularly concerning.  The severity of average claims in these states has been increasing faster than elsewhere.  In 2008, only 2.2% of claims from tort reform states exceeded $2,000,000.  By 2013, this proportion had risen to 4.1% and last year it jumped further, to 5%. 

"Tort reform, though still valuable in restraining the cost of claims, provides less effective insulation to hospitals than was originally the case," said Steve Chang, healthcare claims team leader at Beazley.  "The plaintiffs' bar has become very adept in maximizing the economic damages which remain uncapped. Moreover, we are finding that the distinction between tort reform and non-tort reform states is becoming increasing blurred with states such as California, Maryland and Florida, all of which are tort reform states, beginning to rival their non-tort reform counterparts."

CNN Money has the story.

October 27, 2015 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Workers' Comp: States Limit Benefits; Federal Oversight Urged

A recent NPR/ProPublica series on workers' compensation caused 10 Democratic Senators to urge action on the part of the Labor Department:

Ten ranking Democrats on key Senate and House committees are urging the Labor Department to respond to a "pattern of detrimental changes in state workers' compensation laws" that have reduced protections and benefits for injured workers over the past decade.

In a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, the lawmakers cited an investigation by NPR and ProPublica, which found that 33 states have cut workers' comp benefits, made it more difficult to qualify for benefits or given employers more control over medical care decisions.

The letter also referred to NPR/ProPublica stories last week that detailed an emerging trend of permitting employers to drop out of state-regulated workers' comp programs, write their own injury plans and limit benefits on their own.

NPR has the story.

October 22, 2015 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

WI: Another Bill to Allow Parents to Sue for Med Mal on Behalf of Their Adult Children

Wisconsin law does not allow the parents of adult children to sue on their behalf for medical malpractice.  For years, bills have been introduced to change the law (here is a post from last session), and Senator Harris Dodd is trying again.  This bill would allow parents to sue for their children up to age 27 if they die as the result of medical error.  This year's bill is scaled back:

Earlier versions would have allowed adult children to sue if a parent died because of malpractice and also called for allowing parents of children of any age to sue for malpractice in death cases.

The Milwaukee Wisconsin J0urnal Sentinel has the story.

October 13, 2015 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Texans for Lawsuit Reform Claims Increase in Physicians; Link to Reform

TLR's website has the story.

October 12, 2015 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

CA: Saskatchewan Approves Changes to Auto Coverage Programs

 The Saskatchewan government has approved changes to tort and no-fault programs recommended after a review of the auto system.

Among others, the changes include:

• When an impaired driver causes a collision and is killed, allowing an innocent party or the family impacted to sue for pain and suffering or bereavement damages (No Fault and Tort coverage);

• Expanding the list of offences that trigger the ability for an innocent party to sue for pain and suffering or bereavement damages to include: criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm, criminal negligence causing bodily injury, flight from a peace officer and dangerous operation while street racing (No Fault and Tort coverage);

• Updating amounts paid for living expenses to reflect current market rates, increasing the overall amount available for assistance to those with cognitive impairment and implementing a process to regularly review the amounts for alignment with market rates (No Fault coverage);

• Ending the practice of reducing income benefits by the amount a customer receives through Canada Pension Plan (CPP) disability (No Fault coverage); and

• Ensuring Tort income benefits maintain pace with minimum wage (Tort coverage).

Canadian Underwriter has the story.

October 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

NV: Med Mal Non-Economic Damages Cap Upheld

Last week, the Nevada Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state's $350,000 med mal cap on non-economic damages.  A lower court had ruled the cap violated the constitutional right to trial by jury.  The court also overturned the lower court's holding that the cap applies separately to each plaintiff and each defendant.  The Las Vegas Review-Journal has the story.

October 7, 2015 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)