Tort reform deal ready for vote

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 7, 2002

Lincoln County lawmakers were looking forward to returning toJackson Monday after House and Senate negotiators worked into themorning hours on a medical malpractice tort reform compromise.

“It’s looking better,” said Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett.”People are tired of this mess.”

Following stalled negotiations during a special session beganSept. 5, most lawmakers have been home for about a week as Houseand Senate conferees tried to reach agreement on a bill. WorkingSunday and into Monday morning, the conferees reached a compromisebill that was filed around 3 a.m., Barnett said.

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Barnett said the compromise was “a long time coming.” Optionsfacing lawmakers when they return at 2 p.m. Monday include passingthe bill, killing it or sending it back for further study.

“The main thing is that both sides agreed to a $500,000 cap,”Barnett said. “I think that’s good.”

The compromise includes a series of caps on jury awards for painand suffering that, if approved, would be set at $500,000 startingJan. 1, 2003. The cap would increase to $750,000 on Jan. 1, 2011and to $1 million on Jan. 1, 2017.

Dist. 53 Rep. Bobby Moak sounded a note of caution over ajurisdictional issue involving claims against pharmaceuticalcompanies. Moak said there will be a move today to send the billback for study to address the “federalization” of claims topic.

According to Moak, language in the bill would allow a claimfiled in state court to be removed to another jurisdiction. Incases involving multi-district litigation against a drug company,Moak said a federal judge panel would decide jurisdiction where theclaims would be heard.

“Basically, a Mississippian would not have their claim heard instate court, and possibly not in the state’s federal court…,”Moak said. “If they can’t in their own courts, of course, I’ve gota problem with that.”

While he did not sound enthusiastic about the bill, Moak said itis something doctors “should be ecstatic about.”

“I think doctors have virtually everything they want in thebill,” Moak said.

Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said if Senate conferees canagree on the compromise, it is something she probably could supportas well. However, she wanted to go over the bill thoroughlyfirst.

“I am eager to get up there and find out exactly what thedetails and stipulations are,” the senator said.

Hyde-Smith focused on doctors and their ability to get medicalmalpractice insurance coverage.

Some insurance companies have stopped offering policies in thestate because of the state’s legal climate. As a result, a numberof doctors around the state have stopped practicing after beingunable to get coverage and facing much higher rates for policyrenewal from companies that remain in the state.

Hyde-Smith was hopeful that the pending legislation would bringinsurance companies back to the state to offer coverage fordoctors.

“As long as it accomplishes that, I can certainly vote for it,”the senator said.