Iowa Governor Terry Branstad approved a medical malpractice reform bill placing a $250,000 limit on non-economic damages. A crowd gathered for the signing at the capitol office. Governor Branstad expressed his views stating that he had wanted such legislation for a long time. He feels that the measure will assist the state in the attraction and retention of physicians and other healthcare specialists. He cited the success he has witnessed in other states that have implemented similar laws, such as Governor Rick Perry of Texas. Iowa has a strong track in the educational arena for training medical professionals, yet struggles to retain many of these students, in part due to high malpractice insurance rates.
This $250,000 limit damages applies to “pain and suffering” awards in cases where providers are determined to have exhibited negligence. There are exceptions to this limitation for those who die, lose significant function of their body, or are significantly disfigured. The American Medical Association reports that Iowa is 43rd among U.S. states for ease in accessibility to doctors. Approximately 35 U.S. states have a similar measure in effect. The vote passed 65-32 in the Iowa House and 37-12 in Iowa's Senate.
The Iowa laws clarifying aspects of this bill are as follows:
- Non-economic damages: Those stemming from pain, inconvenience, suffering, deficiency, emotional anguish, a loss of consortium, and other non-monetary conditions.
- Occurrence: The acts, incidents, or inactions that caused the damages.
- The $250,000 limit applies regardless of the number of plaintiffs or defendants and types of liability, except when a jury believes that the limit would leave the plaintiff with significantly insufficient recovery.
- The limitation will not apply to cases where the defendant acted in a manner that is malicious.
Another part of the new law is concerning expert witnesses in medical malpractice litigation. The plaintiff has a burden of proving that the medical professional failed to maintain an appropriate standard of care in practicing. In proving that the defendant did not meet the standard criteria, expert witnesses may testify and a document must be presented to the court within 60 days. The summary of law is explained as follows:
- The individual (witness) is licensed in the same or a similar field as the defendant and has remained in good standing for a period of five years.
- If the defendant is board certified, the witness must recognized by the medical or osteopathic governing association in the same or similar field.
- The plaintiff must also present a certificate of merit affidavit signed by the witness indicating the reasons for expert witness testimony.
- A certificate of merit (as described above) must be submitted for each named defendant in the matter.
- The courts may allow for extensions of time beyond 60 days under certain circumstances of good cause.