Hawaii Considers Legislation to Protect Doctors against Malpractice Suits

Posted on Jan 30, 2008

The Hawaii state legislature is considering medical malpractice reform legislation that would protect the medical profession from liability lawsuits and prevent doctors from fleeing the island for mainland states that have such legislation in place.

The issue concerns Hawaii's insurance commissioner JP Schmidt, who supports a medical malpractice bill. "We're losing our doctors to Texas, California and other states that have medical liability reform. We're having a tough time getting new doctors here," he said as reported by KHNL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Honolulu.

The bill would limit certain kinds of damages awarded in malpractice suits. "It puts a cap on non-economic damages, pain and suffering and emotional distress – things that aren’t guided by standards," said Schmidt. Supporters say caps on damages would make malpractice insurance more affordable for doctors while leveling off premiums for the public.

However, critics of the bill say a cap would not affect insurance premiums. They also say with such a law on the books, it would be hard for plaintiffs to retain counsel in medical malpractice cases. State Representative Rida Cabanilla (D- Waipahu, Honouliuli, West Loch, Ewa), who supports the bill, doubted it will pass in the current session. "There's a lot of resistance from the legal community and there's a lot of lawyers in this building."

Cabanilla happens to be a nurse and realizes this is a hot-button issue. "This state is in a bad position,” she said. “We are losing doctors every day and we don't have anybody to replace them."

The bill passed its first reading in both the House and Senate, and is currently in committees.

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