Doctors Seek Legal Liability Reforms; Group Rallies at Capitol to Fight Rising Premiums

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Firing the first shot in what promises to be a major fight, doctors from across Georgia marched on the Capitol yesterday, demanding legal reforms to curb soaring malpractice insurance rates.

"All of us know fellow physicians who have opted for retirement, restricted their practices or relocated because they can't afford rising liability insurance premiums," Lawrence Sanders, an associate dean at Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine, told a crowd of about 1,800 just outside the Capitol.

"This effort is essential to assure that all Georgians have access to safe, affordable, high-quality health services."

Yesterday's rally came on the first day members of the General Assembly could pre-file legislation for the 2003 session.

Supporters of legal reform expect to have a bill ready by the end of this month, said David Cook, executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia, co-sponsor of the march along with the Georgia Hospital Association.

Among other things, the measure is expected to call for a $250,000 cap on jury awards for pain and suffering.

Medical malpractice insurance premiums for both doctors and hospitals have skyrocketed during the past several years, outstripping the rate of inflation or even the steeper rise in other types of medical costs.

Georgia is among a dozen states identified by the American Medical Association as suffering the largest increases.

Representatives of the insurance industry and medical groups blame the growing number of malpractice lawsuits and the increasing size of jury awards.

But plaintiffs' lawyers say insurance companies are jacking up premiums to make up for their efforts to undercut each other during a price war in the booming 1990s. …