Lawmakers considering bill that would block Georgians from suing - CBS46 News

Lawmakers considering bill that would block Georgians from suing doctors

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ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -

State lawmakers are considering a bill, dubbed The Patient Injury Act, that would prevent patients and their families from suing doctors and hospitals in Georgia.  

"We need to overhaul the [medical malpractice] system," said the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-District 21 of Fulton County, during a recent Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing.

If passed, Beach's Senate Bill 141 would block Georgians from filing medical malpractice suits against doctors and hospitals, instead creating a panel of appointed healthcare experts that would hear cases, determine injuries and award compensation that would be capped.  

"We think you should see a 15 to 22 percent decrease in your premiums," said Beach. 

It's a system Jennifer Shiver, of Woodstock, said she wishes was in place when her husband, David, died of a failed gastric bypass surgery 12 years ago. 

Shiver said despite delays and mistakes by the doctor and hospital staff, she was unable to file a malpractice lawsuit because three attorneys refused to take her case.

"They said the payout was uncertain. It was a business decision for [the attorneys]," said Shiver, who was left to raise two teen boys alone.

Shiver said she believes she would have received compensation if the proposed reform had been in place when her husband died. 

"It would have helped greatly in raising them and knowing a medical expert had reviewed it would have been very beneficial to me," said Shiver.

Some doctors support the bill, claiming it would eliminate the need for them to order unnecessary tests to avoid the potential lawsuit. 

Dr. Jeffrey English, a neurologist in Atlanta, said he practices defensive medicine several times a week.

"If there is even a remote possibility that a litigious type person is in my office, I will do the MRI or the extra blood test so I can avoid [a lawsuit]," said English. 

Beach cited studies that claimed 82 percent of physicians in Georgia practice defensive medicine at a cost of $14 billion. He said he expects that his bill would greatly reduce the practice of defensive medicine, saving the healthcare system much of the $14 billion. 

But Beach's proposal has opposition from the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and The Medical Association of Georgia.

MAG's executive director, Donald Palmisano, said studies that his group commissioned have found that Beach's numbers and predictions aren't correct.

"You're going to increase the cost of the system, you're going to increase the claims. It's going to have to be paid for in the form of a tax by physicians and healthcare providers and ultimately they still have to prove it's going to be constitutional," said Palmisano. 

Some consumer advocates also oppose the legislation claiming it would seal malpractice records and make it tougher for patients to research doctors' backgrounds. 

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