In a surprising alliance of typically opposing forces, a group of attorneys and doctors have come together to fight against a proposed sweeping change to Georgia’s medical malpractice laws. The change being considered by lawmakers would be the first of its kind and would remove all medical malpractice claims from the court system and instead create an administrative process to hear the claims.
According to supporters of the legislation, Senate Bill 141 (also known as the Patient Injury Act) is necessary legislation designed to curb the rising costs of medical malpractice claims and to make it safer to practice medicine in the State of Georgia. Backers of the Patient Injury Act say that the existing litigation process, in addition to costing doctors and insurance companies a fortune, drags on for far too long and often causes unnecessary harm to the reputation of physicians.
To help combat these problems, supporters have crafted a bill that would establish a medical malpractice administrative system overseen by a new Patient Compensation Board to be established under the Department of Community Health. Under the law, patients would be required to submit claims to the Office of Medical Review, which would then review applications and give doctors time to respond. If the doctor decides to challenge the claim, then a panel of experts would be assembled to investigate the matter. Finally, an independent board would then issue a decision on the case, though the board would not make any determination regarding whether medical malpractice occurred.
Though the measure has the support of the insurance industry and an array of healthcare administrators, other powerful groups have lined up to express their displeasure with the proposal. For one thing, doctors groups, such as The Medical Association of Georgia, are worried about how sweeping the overhaul is, describing it as drastic and worrying that it will lead to higher costs and an increase in the overall number of med mal claims.
The State Bar of Georgia has also come out against the proposal, resulting in an unusual alliance between doctors and lawyers. The Bar notes that the proposal would deny Georgians their current constitutional right to have their claims heard by a jury of their peers. Moreover, the Bar says that holding negligent doctors publicly accountable is critically important and should not be done away with in favor of secretive hearings that shield dangerous doctors from the negative notoriety they deserve.
Currently the legislation is before a Georgia Senate subcommittee. Whether the bill has enough support to move on to a vote before the full legislature remains to be seen. In the mean time, interested groups on both sides will be battling it out over the future of med mal claims in the state.