NC Senate Passes Serious Medical Liability Reform

Following three grueling weeks of work by the Senate Judiciary 1 Committee, chaired by Sen. Pete Brunstetter (R,-Forsyth), the NC Senate has approved legislation containing five very important medical liability reforms. The NCMS has spearheaded lobbying efforts favoring Senate Bill 33 – Medical Liability Reforms (Apodaca, R-Buncombe; Brown, R-Onslow; Rucho, R-Mecklenburg). A strong coalition of medical specialties, NC Hospital Association, NC Chamber, and other health care interests are supporting the bill. The proposal was approved in the Senate by a vote of 36-13. The measure is expected to be referred to the House Select Committee on Tort Reform, which is chaired by Rep. Danny McComas (R-New Hanover) and Rep. Johnathan Rhyne (R-Lincoln). The major provisions of the bill are:

  • Liability protection for those rendering emergency care, similar to that provided for Good Samaritans;
  • Separate trials for liability and damages. This is an important provision that prevents a jury from being prejudiced by evidence related to the severity of harm. Such evidence may only be presented after the jury had concluded that the physician departed from the standard of care;
  • Cap on noneconomic damages. The cap approved by the Senate is a $500,000 indexed cap on both the amount that any plaintiff may receive, and on the amount any defendant must pay for all claims brought by all parties arising out of the same cause of action. The cap is not “stackable” unlike many other states, and there are no exceptions. To read more about the important differences between this cap and the $250,000 cap in the original Senate proposal, click here.
  • Periodic payment of future damage awards over $200,000. This permits the payments to be stopped if the recipient of the payments dies before the payment schedule is completed. There are exceptions for payments reflecting loss of future earnings or loss of future household services.
  • Appeal bond reform, to permit judges to establish fair bond requirements in the event of large judgments that exceed insurance limits. The factors to be considered are the amount of the judgment, the limits of applicable insurance policies, and the aggregate net worth of the appellant. This provision ensures physicians have a meaningful opportunity to appeal judgments against them.

As this important debate continues, the NCMS will continue to work closely with legislators who support meaningful reform. We anticipate a thorough process will be used by the House Select Committee on Tort Reform, just as we saw in the Senate Judiciary 1 Committee.  Please contact your legislator and ask them to support meaningful medical liability reform.


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1 Comment

  • B. Preecha md mph

    It will be interesting how “emergency care” is defined and it’s relationship to
    “gross negligence.”