TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Zabinski & Black: Med Mal Caps Diminish Deterrent Effect

Zenon Zabinski & Bernard Black have posted to SSRN The Deterrent Effect of Tort Law:  Evidence from Medical Malpractice Reform.  The abstract provides:

We examine whether caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases affect in-hospital patient safety. We use Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs) — measures of adverse events — as proxies for safety. In difference-in-differences (DiD) analyses of five states that adopt caps during 2003-2005, we find that patient safety gradually worsens after cap adoption, relative to control states. Standard DiD inference can be unreliable with a small number of treated units. We therefore develop a randomization inference-based test for DiD statistical inference with few treated units but multiple, potentially correlated outcomes, and confirm statistical strength with this nonparametric approach.

February 5, 2019 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 4, 2019

PA: Med Mal Reform on Venue?

Yesterday's The Patriot-News (Harrisburg) featured a front-page article by David Wenner entitled "Is the deck stacked against patients?".  In 2002, during the middle of an alleged crisis in malpractice, the legislature passed a law that, among other things, added a certificate of merit requirement and restricted venue to the place of the alleged malpractice. The latter was largely aimed at keeping cases out of Philadelphia, where juries tend to be more liberal on both liability and damages.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the venue restriction into the rules of civil procedure, fixing a constitutional problem with the legislation.  Since the reforms, the number of cases filed in Pennsylvania has been cut nearly in half.  A committee of the Supreme Court is now considering eliminating the rule against venue shopping.  The article contains prominent voices on both sides of the issue debating the merits.

February 4, 2019 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Robinette & Wachtel on Kentucky Holding Medical Malpractice Panels Unconstitutional

I have been fortunate to have a series of very talented research assistants over the years.  One of my current RAs, Dani Wachtel, and I wrote a short piece for Insurance Journal on the Kentucky Supreme Court striking down med mal review panels as unconstitutional. 

January 16, 2019 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 11, 2019

KY: Bill Would Amend Constitution to Allow Tort Reform

Sen. Ralph Alvarado has filed a bill to amend Kentucky's constitution to allow the General Assembly to create statutes of limitation for civil actions involving death, personal injury and property damage and to set limits on non-economic damages in civil cases.  Last year a similar bill failed to get out of committee.  Sen. Alvarado was the sponsor of the medical malpractice panels law that was enacted in 2017 and struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in November.  Louisville Business First has the story.

January 11, 2019 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 28, 2018

SELF DRIVE Act Dies in the Senate

The shutdown is getting the most attention right now, but one of the bills that died when the Senate adjourned last week was the SELF DRIVE Act, designed to regulate and create federal safety standards for self-driving cars.  Politico had an article summarizing the fate of various bills, and it said this about the SELF DRIVE Act:

— Self-driving, but not self-passing: Senators conceded earlier this week that the SELF DRIVE Act, H.R. 3388 (115), would not be passed in 2018. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) called it "extremely disappointing that the Senate will not be able to finish its work on self-driving car legislation this year.” The proposal would regulate and create federal safety standards for self-driving cars.

December 28, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

FDA Withdraws Proposal for Liability for Generic Drug Makers

The Supreme Court's preemption cases shield generic pharmaceutical manufacturers from liability.  In 2013, the FDA proposed a new federal rule that would have allowed liability against manufacturers of generic drugs.  Last week, the FDA withdrew that proposal.  The Wall Street Journal has details.

December 19, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, Products Liability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

OH: Non-economic Damages Cap Applies to Defamation Cases

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the statutory cap on non-economic damages applies to compensatory damages awarded in defamation cases.  At Legally Speaking Ohio, Marianna Bettman has analysis.

December 18, 2018 in Damages, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 17, 2018

50-State Survey of Damage Caps and the Collateral Source Rule

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Puerto Rico Adopts Med Mal Panels

Puerto Rico's governor signed a law creating 13 panels composed of 3 people--including a health expert, a public advocate, and a lawyer or former judge--to review medical malpractice claims.  Claimants, with an exclusion for the indigent, will be required to post a bond-like payment with the panel.  If the panel finds evidence of malpractice, the money will be returned.  The governor hopes it will stem the exodus of doctors from Puerto Rico; of the approximately 1,000 claims each year, 900 are dismissed.  

The exodus from Puerto Rico is widespread, and is largely caused by a weak economy and damage from recent hurricanes.   There are better ways to handle a number of weak claims than adding another layer of delay for all claims, including the good ones.  (It is important to remember that studies also suggest a large number of valid claims are never filed.)  For example, a certificate of merit requirement is more relevant handling the precise problem.

The Province has details.

December 6, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 19, 2018

KY: Supreme Court Holds Med Mal Review Panel Law is Unconstitutional

On Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the medical malpractice panel law, passed in 2017, was unconstitutional.  The law required medical malpractice claimants to go through a panel procedure (review by health care professionals) prior to obtaining a jury trial.  The process consumes nine months and the outcome is admissible, but not binding, at the subsequent trial.  In reporting on the reason the court held the law unconstitutional, J.D. Supra stated:

In holding the Act unconstitutional, the Kentucky Supreme Court focused its analysis on Section 14 of the Kentucky Constitution. Section 14 is entitled the “Right of judicial remedy for injury -- Speedy trial”. Section 14 states that “All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law, and right and justice administered without sale, denial or delay.” The Court found that Section 14 not only applied to the Judicial branch but also to the Legislative branch, holding that the Legislative branch cannot enact legislation contrary to the rights guaranteed in Section 14, including a right to have justice without delay. The Court reasoned that, even though there are natural delays in judicial proceedings, the Act was unconstitutional because it created a mandatory delay. The Court found that due to the Act’s provisions, claimants were now unable to seek immediate redress through the Judiciary, which was unconstitutional.

The entire J.D. Supra article is here

I won't opine on the constitutionality of the law, but I will say that as a matter of policy the delay is a bad idea.  Med mal cases are too slow already.  This was my reaction in 2015 when Kentucky was considering an earlier version of the law:

The bill is a bad idea because it adds more delay and transaction costs to an already lengthy and expensive process, without resolving anything.  Studies conclude the average med mal claim lasts about 5 years from event to resolution, with more money being used to run the system than to compensate victims.  Review panels increase the time to resolution by adding another layer of procedure.  They also increase transaction costs as lawyers and experts for both sides try to convince an additional decision maker of the merits of their case. 

To the extent reducing frivolous claims is the goal, a certificate of merit requirement would be preferable:  it is quicker and less expensive.  Moreover, reducing the length and adversarialism of the process should be the focus.  Review panels were in place in Virginia when I practiced.  Most plaintiff's lawyers simply didn't participate.  The result was admissible at trial, but so was the information that the plaintiff was not involved in the panel's decision.  The claim was delayed, but at least it was not also more expensive.

November 19, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 29, 2018

AR: Supreme Court Again Strikes Tort Reform Measure from the Ballot

I'm a bit late covering this; it happened while I was away.  The Arkansas Supreme Court, for procedural reasons, threw tort reform (Issue 1) off of the November ballot.  The opinion is here.  Proponents could certainly try again (they have in the past).  But, to me, the bigger issue is the emergence of a traditionally conservative advocacy group (family-oriented Christians) opposing reform instead of supporting it or remaining neutral.  If this portends a national movement, the politics (and success) of tort reform may change dramatically.  As I understand it, Issue 1 was not doing well.  The only poll I saw had it losing about 2-1.  As proof of the unusual combination of interests, here is a link to an opinion piece written by (in their description) a liberal law professor and a conservative public interest advocate.  Joshua Silverstein and Jerry Cox cover some of the empirical data on tort reform and argue this ballot measure would have hurt Arkansas.

October 29, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Federal Legislation on Autonomous Vehicles?

In the U.S. Senate, a bill called AV START (American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies) has been proposed.  The bill would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to regulate design, construction, and performance of self-driving cars — preempting state laws already in place.  State and local governments would continue to handle registration, licensing, insurance, and safety and emissions inspections.  The bill is similar to the SELF DRIVE (Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution) measure already passed by the House of Representatives.  Some safety advocates object to the bill primarily on the grounds it would increase the number of exemptions from safety standards applicable to human drivers.  Automated vehicles are expected to save numerous lives by replacing human drivers, whose errors cause the vast majority of traffic accidents, with artificial intelligence.  The Washington Examiner has the story.

October 26, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

AR: Poll Finds Roughly 2-1 Margin Against Tort Reform

KATV in Little Rock is reporting about a Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll on the issue of whether the state constitution should be amended to cap attorney fees, limit damages in personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death lawsuits, and give the legislature the authority to control the rules of court procedure.  The results?  25% of voters are in favor and 47% are opposed.  More details are available here.  It would be interesting to know if the advocacy of a Christian group against tort reform has had an effect.

September 11, 2018 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 20, 2018

AR: Pro-Life Group Opposes Tort Reform

Religious and business conservatives can make for uneasy allies on a number of issues.  Tort reform, advocated by business conservatives, has not usually been such an issue.  In Arkansas, however, the Family Council Action Committee, a conservative Christian group, is actively opposing the ballot measure to impose new limits on tort damages:

A Christian group has begun rallying churches and abortion opponents against the measure, saying that limiting damage awards in lawsuits sets an arbitrary value on human life, contrary to anti-abortion beliefs, and conflicts with biblical principles of justice and helping the poor.

It will be interesting to see if this spills over to other states.  The News Tribune has the story.


Read more here: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/nation-world/article216945060.html#storylink=

August 20, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 13, 2018

KY: Argument Over Constitutionality of Med Mal Panels

Last year, Kentucky enacted a law requiring medical malpractice claimants to go through a panel procedure (review by health care professionals) prior to obtaining a jury trial.  The process consumes nine months and the outcome is admissible, but not binding, at the subsequent trial.  Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments over the constitutionality of the law.  Plaintiffs claim the law obstructs the right to a jury trial, in violation of the state constitution.  The Courier Journal has the story.

August 13, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 3, 2018

AR: Judge Refuses to Block Tort Reform Ballot Measure

For several years, there has been a saga in Arkansas to get a tort reform measure on the ballot.  The measure would cap non-economic damages, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.  Last month, I reported on the most-recent event, a former judge sued to block the measure on the basis that it unconstitutionally combines several proposals and also violates separation of powers.  On Tuesday, a judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction because the plaintiff-former judge could not demonstrate irreparable injury if the ballot went forward.  The case remains to be decided on the merits.  The Times Record has the story

August 3, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

PA: Federal Judge Blocks PA from Taking Approximately $300M from Med Mal JUA

Judge Christopher Conner has issued a preliminary injunction stopping the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from absorbing the JUA (and its money) into its Insurance Department.  In May, Judge Conner ruled Pennsylvania could not take $200M from the JUA in an attempt to balance its budget because the money was private property and such a seizure violated the Takings Clause of the United States Constitution.  The current ruling indicates those principles apply equally to an absorption.  The May ruling is on appeal to the Third Circuit.  PennLive has the story.  Thanks to Dan Noon for the tip.

July 19, 2018 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

AR: Former Judge Challenges Constitutionality of Tort Reform Measure by Ballot

AMP (Arkansas Money & Politics) has the story.  The gist:

Former Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey is challenging the ballot measure that would cap damages awarded in lawsuits and give legislative control over court rules in Arkansas.

Humphry filed the lawsuit last week, challenging the proposed constitutional amendment, also known as Issue 1, that Arkansas legislators voted in 2017 to put on the November ballot. The measure limits damages that can be awarded in civil lawsuits and contingency fees attorneys can receive in those suits. The measure also would give the Legislature power to change, repeal or adopt rules for the state’s courts.

In the lawsuit, Humphry claims the measure unconstitutionally combines four separate proposals. He also suggests it violates the separation of powers by giving the legislative branch power over the judicial branch. Humphry asks that a Pulaski County judge disqualify the measure and prevent election officials from counting any votes for it.

The proposed amendment caps noneconomic damages awarded in lawsuits to $500,000 and would restrict punitive damages to $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is higher. The Legislature would be able to increase these limits with a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. It also caps attorneys’ contingency fees at 33 1/3 percent of the net amount recovered in the suit.

July 18, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

PA: JUA Sues State Over One More Attempt to Take Its Money

Back in May, Judge Christopher Conner of the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that the Commonwealth could not take $200M from the state-created joint underwriting association (JUA) for medical malpractice insurance to balance the budget.  The judge ruled it was a seizure of property without compensation and was unconstitutional.  (Coverage here)  Having been thwarted, the Commonwealth passed a budget that simply absorbs the JUA's operations into the Insurance Department.  The JUA has sued again and has filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.  WITF has the story.

July 5, 2018 in Current Affairs, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

WI: Supreme Court Upholds Damages Cap in Case of Woman Who Lost All 4 Limbs

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the $750,000 non-economic damages cap in med mal cases is constitutional.  The trial court had ruled the cap unconstitutional as applied to this plaintiff, and the intermediate appellate court went further and held it was unconstitutional on its face.  The majority acknowledged the sympathetic facts, but held the legislature was acting within its authority to make policy decisions.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which covers tort and tort reform issues in depth, has the story

June 28, 2018 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)