Doctors praise tort bill passage

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; A tort reform bill passed by the House Thursday is a big step, local doctors say.

A 76-38 vote to accept the Senate’s changes to an earlier bill will put a $1 million cap on pain-and-suffering damage awards in civil lawsuits against businesses or individuals and a $500,000 cap on the same type of damages in medical malpractice cases if signed by the governor.

The bill was held for possible debate, but is expected to be sent to the governor soon. Gov. Haley Barbour has been pushing for the legislation since his campaign.

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The new caps will be a good start to cleaning up the state’s civil justice system, Natchez Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Jack Houghton said.

&uot;It’s another progressive step forward in addressing the tort reform needs for the state of Mississippi,&uot; Houghton said. &uot;It will send an appropriate message to malpractice insurance carriers that there is stability coming to Mississippi.&uot;

Dr. Kenneth Stubbs said he was glad to see the bill pass, but he said there is still work to be done.

&uot;I think any cap is better than what we’ve had,&uot; Stubbs said. &uot;A million is rather generous, I think for pain and suffering. One million would wipe out a small store owner.&uot;

Stubbs stressed that the $1 million cap was strictly for pain and suffering and did not include hospital costs.

Houghton agreed that the bill did not solve everything.

&uot;There are always things that are left out,&uot; Houghton said. &uot;This is a compromise, we would have liked to have seen more but these changes are really significant.&uot;

Houghton said the new caps would help in recruiting doctors to the state.

&uot;It has been extremely difficult recruiting doctors into Mississippi over the past two years,&uot; Houghton said. &uot;If it passes it will go a long way to helping correct some of the problems.&uot;

The cap on lawsuits against businesses will also lighten the stress load on local business owners like Etheridge True Value Hardware owner Glenn Etheridge.

&uot;What we are worried about is premiums,&uot; Etheridge said before the bill passed the House. &uot;It just hurts the little guy. There has got to be a limit. Anytime people are walking through the door they can get hurt.&uot;

The current special session to address tort reform, voter identification and the Department of Human Services started on May 19.

When the session started Senate leaders were in favor of a $250,000 cap on all pain-and-suffering awards.