R.I. Session Nears End with Med-Mal Push

June 23, 2004

As the end of the 2004 legislative session draws near in Rhode Island, Rep. Peter T. Ginaitt says he is pushing hard for the passage of his legislation to change some of the state laws governing medical malpractice lawsuits.

The legislation (2004 – H7850) is aimed at speeding up the resolution of medical malpractice claims, on the theory that lengthy suits contribute to the high cost of medical malpractice insurance for doctors.

“This is a very serious situation, and it shouldn’t wait for another year. Some doctors are leaving the state and others are cutting back on the types of procedures they’ll do because they can’t afford the cost of malpractice insurance in Rhode Island,” said Ginaitt, (D-Dist. 22) of Warwick, who serves as chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee and secretary of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee.

The bill seeks to lower prejudgment interest on malpractice damages. Currently, interest is calculated at 12 percent from the time the malpractice occurred to when the damages are paid in full.
It also would require that plaintiffs in malpractice suits make timely disclosure of expert testimony. Further, the bill would establish a certificate of merit that must be filed before a malpractice suit can be brought.

Ginaitt, who is a rescue captain in the Warwick Fire Department and a registered nurse, said the legislation sets reasonable limits on medical malpractice suits.

“This tort reform proposal will not shield doctors from the consequences of their actions; it will protect doctors and patients from the high financial and social costs of drawn-out proceedings.”

The Rhode Island Medical Society supports the bill. The bill has had hearings in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, but neither committee has taken action on it.

According to a recent Rhode Island Medical Society survey, 47 percent of Rhode Island doctors said they are considering leaving practice in Rhode Island because of the high cost of doing business here. Forty-one percent said they are considering no longer performing certain surgeries to cut down on malpractice insurance costs. And 61 percent said they are having difficulty recruiting and keeping doctors to their practices because of the high costs.

The length of time for the settlement of malpractice suits in Rhode Island is more than six years, when the national average is 2.4 years, according to the medical society. There are now only two companies offering malpractice insurance in Rhode Island, down from 10 five years ago.

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