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Georgia Legislators Trying to Change State Medical Malpractice Laws

Senate Bill 141, also known as the ‘Patient Injury Act’ could effectively change the landscape of medical malpractice laws in Georgia, if passed. Sponsored by Republican Senator Brandon Beach, the act would reportedly help lower health care costs and facilitate patient payouts by replacing all malpractice lawsuits with an administrative system that would function in much the same way as worker’s compensation.

While the Patient Injury Act has some supporters, numerous legislators oppose S.B. 141, including the State Bar of Georgia, whose president Charles L. Ruffin noted that all individuals should be entitled to a trial by jury, and that in cases involving medical malpractice, there needs to be “an impartial judge overseeing an impartial jury making these decisions.”

Georgia medical malpractice laws hinge on Senate Bill 141

In explaining the need for an alternative to malpractice lawsuits, Senator Beach cited escalating medical care costs, most of which are caused by physicians who are practicing defensive medicine. The new administrative system would process all malpractice claims on a no-fault basis, compensating patients for their injuries regardless if negligence was the contributing factor.

Under Senate Bill 141, the system would be managed by a Patient Compensation Board, which would review submitted claims and determine within ten days if the patient suffered a medical injury. The appropriate health care provider would then be notified of the injury and have 15 days to respond. If the claim is challenged by the clinician or doctor, an expert panel will have 60 days to further investigate the claim. Any decision made by the review panel can be appealed by the health care provider.  But unlike a judge or jury, the panel will not establish whether the doctor has committed medical malpractice, as this decision is made by the Georgia Medical Board.

The program would be funded by annual fees paid by medical providers that would be poured into Patient Compensation Board. According to sponsors of the bill, proposed fees for individual providers would cap out at $500 apiece during the first year, and would increase to no more than $600 in the following years. Hospitals would pay no more than $100 per bed in the first year and $200 per bed thereafter.

A possible end to all malpractice suits in Georgia

Senator Beach and other sponsors of The Personal Injury Act believe that if physicians are no longer practicing defensive medicine, and cut down on unnecessary tests and procedures for fear of being sued for missed diagnoses or other diagnostic errors, health care costs will slowly begin to decrease. This remains the goal and hope of S.B. 141 proponents, despite the fact that more people will qualify for compensation under the new system. In addition to Senator Beach, the bill is also sponsored by Sen. Butch Miller, Sen. Steve Gooch and Sen. John Albers.

In a 2013 report, Johns Hopkins researchers determined that diagnosis mistakes cause up to 160,000 deaths every year in the United States, making these some of the most costly errors committed by physicians. Statistics show that between 15,000 and 19,000 malpractice suits are brought against doctors annually.

The legislation is still in the early stages, and has far to go and many obstacles before becoming law. Other opponents of S.B. 141, such as former Attorney General Mike Bowers, suspect that the bill won’t withstand a Constitutional challenge. The Medical Association of Georgia also voiced concerns about altering the medical malpractice laws so drastically.