Oregon Governor Promises Medical Malpractice Tort Reform in 2013

Last year, the Oregon legislature voted to create an Oregon Health Insurance Exchange as called for under the federal Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act. That legislation almost didn’t pass, as lawmakers argued over whether or not medical liability tort reforms, including a cap on non-economic damages, would be part of the new law.

The tort reforms desired by the Oregon Republican Party did not make it into the Insurance Exchange bill, but Gov. John Kitzhaber promised medical liability reforms would be addressed in the near future. The near future appears to be the 2013 legislative session.

Gov. Kitzhaber recently announced that he had commissioned a work group that includes lawmakers, a trial lawyer and a physician, which will be tasked with crafting a medical liability reform proposal. The process will be conducted with transparency; the work group having public meetings that started this week.

Gov. Kitzhaber did release his proposal in advance of the work group’s public meetings. The proposal would let a physician explain to a harmed patient exactly what happened and offer an apology if warranted. Within 90 days, the physician or hospital could then make an early offer of compensation as well as plans to ensure the error does not occur in the future. Similar to Oregon’s existing “apology in medicine” legislation, these admissions would not be admissible in court should the patient choose to go to court for remedy. If the injured patient refuses the early offer, the case would go to mediation. Only after mediation has been exhausted would the case be allowed to go to trial. Kitzhaber had been meeting with representatives from the Oregon Medical Association and the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association behind closed doors to hash out his proposal. Notably missing from Gov. Kitzhaber’s proposal is a non-economic damage cap.

Momentum seems to be behind medical malpractice tort reform in the next year. Check back often to follow the progress.

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