Flaggs against cap in some malpractice suits

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 19, 2002

[07/19/02]State Rep. George Flaggs said he is against capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice litigation at $500,000, a measure being called for by insurance companies and medical associations in Mississippi.

The 14-year veteran of the House is serving on a 26-member House and Senate committee that’s exploring whether to revise Mississippi’s civil justice system. He told members of the Port City Kiwanis club Thursday insurance companies are spreading propaganda and misinformation to gain public support, but that legislators will make a recommendation based on what is best for the entire state.

“This is bigger than the doctors or the lawyers or the insurance companies. This is about Mississippi’s future,” Flaggs said.

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Legislators may be called back into special session in August to address doctors’ complaints about medical malpractice insurance availability and premiums. Some doctors are having trouble renewing policies because of rising rates or because some insurance companies are leaving the state.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has said he will put comprehensive civil justice changes on that session’s agenda only if legislators make recommendations by then.

Flaggs said that one thing he will not support is taking away a jury’s ability to award damages, even when there are no measurable economic effects.

Doctors’ groups do not seek caps on lost wages, medical expenses, future earnings or other, more defined damage categories. They do seek limits on so-called non-economic damages such as enjoyment of life or pain and suffering. Those categories are capped at $500,000 in Louisiana, $250,000 in California.

Flaggs said the legislative committee will also look into the medical malpractice premiums set by the insurance companies. Flaggs pointed to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal that suggested insurance companies were raising rates to offset loses following the terrorists attacks on Sept. 11.

He said the closing of Good Shepherd Community Center’s free clinic in Vicksburg was premature. The reason cited for the closure Tuesday was legal advice that a state law does not protect the clinic from liability.

In this year’s session, Flaggs introduced a bill that added churches and charities to those facilities immune from medical malpractice lawsuits, but representatives of Good Shepherd said that law does not go far enough. The Attorney General’s Office has been asked for an opinion.