Over the past few years, doctors in both North Carolina and Ohio have seen a dramatic decrease in their insurance premiums, a decline in closed medical malpractice claims, and a significant decrease in total payments for medical liability. As a result, the market for physicians has stabilized and doctors are no longer fleeing the state out of fear of skyrocketing costs of medical liability insurance premiums. This has led to better access to competent doctors for all state citizens.
The one common thread between the two states, and the direct cause of such positive changes, is that each state passed its own version of a limit on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases. In 2003, the Ohio governor, Bob Taft, signed S.B. 281 into law, a bill that limited noneconomic damages in medical liability cases to $500,000 per occurrence. As a result, closed claims have dropped 41% between 2005 and 2010, and average payments have declined by 38% over the same period of time. In 2011, North Carolina passed a similar reform bill when the legislature overrode Governor Bev Perdue’s veto of a bill limiting noneconomic damages to $500,000 per occurrence. This has led to a 7.4% average cut in insurance premiums for doctors in just one year.
Both states have pointed to the good news and promising trends as proof that the tort reform accomplished what it set out to do- slow the growth of runaway lawsuits and stabilize the market for doctors. As stated by North Carolina state Senate President Pro Tem, Phil Berger, “We stood up to the trial lawyers’ interest groups and the governor to make sure doctors would be able to stay in our state without the fear of baseless, exorbitant lawsuits. The costs of those lawsuits were being passed along to patients, and in an already broken health care system, we had to act.”