Proposed Legislation Could Change Process of Seeking Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

Georgia lawmakers are proposing new legislation that would dramatically change the way in which medical malpractice cases are handled throughout the state, including adding a limit on the damages a person could receive in a medical malpractice suit.

Senate Bill 86 would establish the Patient Compensation Act, which essentially would create an alternative to medical malpractice litigation in which patients are compensated for medical injuries. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the bill would be the first of its kind in the country.

The Patient Compensation Board would be established to govern the Patient Compensation System, which essentially would handle all medical malpractice claims in the state. A patient would be required to file a claim with the system within two years of a medical malpractice incident in order to seek damages.

Within 10 days of receiving the application, individuals who have relevant clinical expertise in the Office of Medical Review will determine whether the application constitutes a medical injury worth damages. If the Office of Medical Review finds the application is valid, the Office of Compensation will determine an award of compensation.

The bill, proposed by state Sen. Brandon Beach, would basically set limits on how much money an alleged victim of medical malpractice could receive in a lawsuit. The bill also would force doctors and other providers to pay into an administrative fund to cover those limited financial awards.

Doctors, surgeons and others in the medical field are held to a high standard. When a person is a patient, he or she expects a certain level of care. When a doctor fails to meet that level or makes a mistake, it could be considered medical malpractice.

Malpractice can include a variety of things, including misdiagnosing a patient or failing to treat him or her for a certain medical issue. Most often, people file suits for medical malpractice after errors in surgical procedures or when a doctor fails to treat an infection.

When a person files a claim, he or she is alleging the doctor or other health care provider did something a reasonable person in the profession would not do or failed to do something a reasonable person in the profession would do. In these cases, under current Georgia law the hospital could be liable for damages.

However, according to Senate Bill 86, the proposed legislation would avoid the lengthy and costly trials associated with medical malpractice suits. The bill alleges even patients with legal representation often have to wait an average of five years before receiving compensation, which creates a financial burden for them and caregivers.

The bill alleges doctors in Georgia are practicing “defensive medicine” by ordering unnecessary tests and procedures, which drives up the cost of health care for those covered by public and private health insurance coverage. The tests also expose patients to unnecessary clinical risks, according to the bill.

The proposed system, according to the legislation, would “significantly reduce” the practices of defensive medicine, reduce health care costs, increase the number of practicing physicians and provide patients with “fair and timely compensation.”

According to the AJC, the bill’s opponents say it would deny patients the right to have their complaints and medical malpractice claims heard by a jury of their peers. This bill also would place a limit on damages, which Georgia currently does not have.

Although an attorney still could be available for a patient in the propose system, the changes would have a significant impact on the resources available to those seeking medical malpractice claims. This new bill would change the entire process, from filing a claim to being awarded damages.

If approved, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2016. To learn more about Senate Bill 86, visit the Georgia General Assembly.

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ReShea Balams

Reshea Balams

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, ReShea Balams focuses her practice on personal injury litigation. Over the past several years, she has represented individuals and families in serious personal injury cases in the Atlanta metropolitan area.

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