Fearful that Tennessee courts could eventually strike down a 2011 law capping jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, doctors plan to press legislators to protect the statute with an amendment to the state’s constitution, reports the Times-Free Press.
The Tennessee Medical Association wants lawmakers to put before voters new constitutional language clarifying that the General Assembly has authority to set caps on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering in cases involving medical malpractice liability.
The group’s would require persuading lawmakers in the current GOP-dominated 109th General Assembly to approve the proposed amendment in 2016 and then getting their successors in the 110th General Assembly to pass it by a two-thirds majority.
If it wins approval from lawmakers, it would go before voters on the 2018 ballot to decide.
“The General Assembly needs to act now to prevent us from going backwards on the issue of a noneconomic damages cap,” Dr. John Hale, president of the Tennessee Medical Association said in a recent statement. “The cap fosters growth in Tennessee’s health care industry by cutting back on frivolous lawsuits and the costs that come with them.
“I’m confident Tennessee voters will support it if given the chance to have their voices heard,” Hale added.
… Tennessee’s constitution includes a declaration that the right to trial by jury shall be inviolate and some contend the damage caps are unconstitutional infringement on jury rights. The proposed constitutional amendment comes with a push already underway to scrap court involvement in malpractice completely.
The Alpharetta, Ga.-based nonprofit advocacy group, Patients for Fair Compensation, is calling on lawmakers to yank malpractice suits out of the courts entirely and put them under a first-of-its-kind Patients’ Compensation System.
Patients for Fair Compensation says its proposal is similar to the workers’ compensation system for helping injured workers. It would create an independent panel, appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam as well as the Republican House and Senate speakers. The panel would retain physicians to serve on panels. They would affix specific costs on physician errors in treating patients.
Proponents say the result would slash billions of dollars now spent on lawsuits and “defensive medicine” practices by physicians seeking to protect themselves in court.
The group presented its plan Tuesday before a study panel of the Senate Commerce Committee where Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, is sponsor of the bill. It was introduced earlier this year… Johnson acknowledged he is already in discussions with state Attorney General Herbert Slatery over whether the bill meets constitutional muster.