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Published: Saturday, 12/7/2002

Ohio House clears much-argued malpractice bill, paving path to Taft

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Amid arguments over misread mammograms and the influence of insurance companies, the Ohio House yesterday gave final approval to a compromise that caps damages juries may award injured patients for medical malpractice.

“We've lost the whole point of why we're even having this discussion,” said Rep. Nancy Hollister (R., Marietta). “We're lucky to have an OB/GYN in some of our counties and some of those are leaving. ... Doctors know their insurance isn't going to drop. But we have to take the first step to say Ohio isn't going to stay on the merry-go-round.”

The bill, which placed doctors and insurance companies at odds with trial lawyers and patients-rights organizations, is the product of a House-Senate conference committee. The Senate is expected to forward the measure to Gov. Bob Taft on Tuesday.

The bill passed by a vote of 61-34, losing nearly all the Democratic support it had enjoyed earlier in the week. The vote was strictly along party lines among northwest Ohio lawmakers.

“I know this bus is being driven by the physicians, but this bus is being fueled by the insurance companies,” said Rep. Eileen Krupinski (D., Steubenville).

The House adjourned for the year yesterday, bringing an earlier end to the two-year session than the Senate wanted.

Among the bills left to die is a measure allowing law-abiding Ohioans to carry concealed handguns.

The malpractice bill limits noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits for intangibles like pain, suffering, and mental anguish.

The committee created dual caps, one for injured patients and another for their families.

For example, a husband and father blinded by a doctor or nurse's error could personally collect up to $500,000.

His wife and children could also sue, collecting another $500,000, with the total cap for the injury set at $1 million.

But a patient with no family and the same injury would be capped at $500,000.

In noncatastrophic cases, the total cap would be $500,000, with the patient eligible for up to $350,000 and the rest of his family up to $150,000.

The bill does not limit economic damages for out-of-pocket costs like lost wages, medical care, and physical therapy.

The measure creates a four-year statute of limitations, commencing from the date the injury occurred, for the patient to bring suit. Current law provides for a one-year limit commencing from the date the patient discovers the malpractice, even if the discovery occurs years later.

The compromise preserves the one-year “discovery” window only for those who later discover doctors left foreign objects, such as a sponge or surgical instrument, in their bodies, or those who discover the malpractice during the fourth year of the four-year limitation.

Much of yesterday's debate occurred over the fact that a woman with breast cancer would be barred from suing if she discovers that her doctor had misread a mammogram more than four years earlier.

“People have to take responsibility for their own bodies ...,” said Rep. Michelle Schneider (R., Cincinnati).

“Mammograms are no better than self-examinations. As a woman, it's your responsibility to self-examine yourself for lumps every month, not every year,” Ms. Schneider said.



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