Policy Documents

Medical Liability Reform: A Three State Comparison

Amy Johnson –
April 1, 2005

Rising medical liability insurance rates for doctors and other health care professionals has prompted the American Medical Association to label Washington a state in medical liability crisis. The growing risk of high cost legal settlements and subsequent increases in malpractice insurance premiums is increasing the cost of, and limiting access to, quality health care for citizens. Since 1996, average jury verdicts in the state have increased 68% and average settlement costs have increased 53%. The number of settlements and verdicts of more than $1 million has increased almost ten fold, rising from four in 1994 to 39 in 2002. The Washington State Hospital Association estimates that, had a reasonable cap on noneconomic damages been in place, $53.5 million in savings would have been realized in the 47 applicable cases settled in 2000, 2001 and the first half of 2002. The biggest contributor to rising malpractice insurance rates is increased losses for insurers on paid medical malpractice claims. Medical malpractice premiums increased an average of 8.1% every year from 1992-2001. The rising cost of malpractice insurance is three times greater than the general rate of inflation and double the rate of inflation for medical care.

To help address the malpractice crisis, Washington policy leaders and the public can learn from the experiences of other states. Effective medical liability reform implemented in other states includes the following basic provisions:

  • change in the statute of limitations;
  • changes the statutes governing negligence;
  • joint and several liability reform;
  • revising vicarious liability and;
  • adopting a cap on non-economic damages.