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House Judiciary Committee passes a measure to restrict liability lawsuit awards

February 11, 2004
By: Gaurav Ghose
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's House Judiciary Committee has sent to the full House a measure that would restrict liability lawsuit awards similar to the measure vetoed by the governor last year.

In approving the measure Wednesday, the committee rejected a substitute offered by Columbia's Rep. Jeff Harris to restrict the bill to medical malpractice.

The Harris substitute would have established a government-run medical malpractice insurance plan and imposed stronger regulations on private medical malpractice insurance companies.

It also would have restricted evidence allowed in health-care liability lawsuits.

The committee-approved bill imposes a broader range of restrictions on liablity lawsuits of all types. It includes caps on non-economic damages.

It has received strong support from business organizations.

The House Judiciary Committee Chair -- Rep. Richard Byrd, R-St. Louis County -- argued that medical malpractice insurance regulation and lawsuit award limits should be considered in separate bills.

Harris disagreed.

"The solution to this problem has to be comprehensive," Harris said. "It has to take into account changes to the legal system and also changes in a way that insures physicians in the state."

During the last few years, physicans in several states have complained of skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs.

Tom Holloway, Missouri State Medical Association's director of government relations, echoed Bryd's view, favoring two separate bills.

"Though the issues are interconnected, statutorily the tort reforms and insurance reforms are two separate areas," Holloway said.

Ultimately, Harris said he hopes his bill will help generate discussion on ways to improve the medical malpractice situation.

"I want to bring everybody together," Harris said. "There are provisions the physicians may like, provisions that they may not like. There are provisions trial lawyers may not like. There are provisions that insurance companies may like, and may not like. We can discuss and work together and find a common solution to the problem."