In Mississippi, medical malpractice attorneys are finding that the legislature can use its powers to dictate the terms of civil litigation - or at least that's what a recent study seems to indicate. The study, published in the current issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that caps placed on pain and suffering awards and other reforms by the legislature led to a marked decrease in the amount of medical malpractice cases making an appearance in court. It examined the number of lawsuits filed against doctors insured by the state's largest med-mal insurer, the Medical Assurance Co. of Mississippi and, according to Daniel Fisher at Forbes, Behrens discovered that "once the legislature made it harder to sue and win big bucks, lawyers responded by filing fewer suits."
The comparisons were made by year, from 1986 to 2010. The most noticeable increase came after Mississippi's legislature enacted medical negligence and other tort reform legislation that became effective for claims filed on or after January 1, 2003, and September 1, 2004. The Forbes article notes that prior to enactment of the new legislation, medical malpractice lawsuits increased at a rate of about 8.5% a year to around 250. That number increased to 630 in 2002, after legislators passed a law capping non-economic damages at $500,000 for suits filed after Jan. 1, 2003, but before the new rules went into effect.
More than likely, this sudden spike in claims is akin to "last-minute" lawsuits, filed in a last ditch effort to capitalize on the availability of larger awards before it was too late. The legislature, however, quickly put a stop to that. In response to the increase in lawsuits, the legislature made it mandatory that plaintiffs sue in the county where they received their injury (effectively ending forum shopping) and eradicated the any increases in the cap on pain and suffering.
Once the legislation actually became effective, lawsuits fell to 132 in 2003, and have since averaged only about 150 annually. The Institute for Legal Reform has said that the 2004 tort reform package led to "measurable improvements." Before the changes, Mississippi had been known as the "lawsuit capital" of the world, reports Legal Newsline. ILR still ranks Mississippi near the bottom of its survey, saying it remains difficult for defendants due to the state's plaintiff-friendly judges and juries.
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