Nevada Assembly Reverses Voter-Approved Tort Reform

Published July 1, 2009

In a bid to overturn the will of the state’s citizens as expressed in a 2004 ballot initiative, the Nevada Assembly has passed a measure removing a $350,000 cap on jury awards for non-economic damages in medical liability lawsuits.

The bill allows unlimited damages in cases where gross negligence is found and extends the time allowed to file suit to five years after the incident’s occurrence.

Nevada voters approved the $350,000 cap in 2004 because of concern high jury awards were driving up medical malpractice premiums, which in turn was driving doctors out of the state.

The bill to repeal the cap was introduced after “a spate of Hepatitis C cases in Las Vegas arising from reuse of contaminated medical devices,” according to Carole Vilardo, executive director of the Nevada Taxpayer’s Association.

Putting Patients at Risk

At press time, AB 495 was awaiting action in the State Senate Judiciary Committee.

Dr. Rudy Manthei, chairman of the Keep Our Doctors in Nevada initiative, says the bill would cause health care costs to rise and put patients at greater risk.

“AB 495 is an awful piece of legislation because it puts the future of Nevada health care at risk by making it more difficult for Nevada to recruit and keep top doctors, particularly in specialty areas like neurology, obstetrics, pediatric surgery, and orthopedic medicine,” Manthei said.

“This bill would increase the cost of care, making it harder for the average Nevadan to get the care that they need and nearly impossible for our residents and visitors to get specialty care for the patients who need it most,” Manthei added

“AB 495 would cause runaway jury awards to return to Nevada, providing large paydays for trial lawyers at the expense of quality care for Nevadans,” said Manthei. “Passing this bill would set our state back decades in an effort to improve care in Nevada.”

‘Dangerous Precedent’

“As introduced, [AB 495] effectively undid what the voters approved in November of 2004,” said Vilardo.

“Overturning the will of the voters is a dangerous precedent,” Manthei said. “Nearly 60 percent of Nevada voters understood this issue and voted for Question 3 [the jury award cap] in 2004. Those voters remember a major state trauma center was forced to close its doors because of out-of-control malpractice awards, and they remember many expecting mothers had trouble finding an OB/GYN to deliver babies in Nevada.

“Voters supported this measure because they understood the ramifications of the status quo, and they are watching to see what happens now,” Manthei added.

Driving Doctors Away

“If this bill becomes law, high-risk specialty doctors simply won’t practice here,” Manthei said, “meaning that our children and seniors—those who need care the most—would have to go to Arizona, California, or Utah to get the care they need, costing families time, money, and headaches.”

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.

For more information …

Assembly Bill 495: