- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2005

D.C. doctors yesterday rallied in support of legislation that would limit malpractice lawsuits and awards, which they say are driving up their insurance costs.

“Even in the face of clear and convincing evidence that there is a problem with medical lability in Washington, our elected officials of the City Council have failed to take action on this issue. That is the reason we are here today,” said Damian P. Alagia III, president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia.

“The end result of this inaction is clear. Doctors will leave the District of Columbia, hospitals will close at the end of the day, and patients will suffer,” Dr. Alagia said during a press conference on the front steps of the John A. Wilson Building.

Peter E. Lavine, chairman of the 1,700-member medical group, said many of its physicians might leave the District if insurance costs are not reduced.

“It is undeniable that caps on attorney fees and noneconomic damages will help control this crisis,” said Dr. Lavine, an orthopedic surgeon. “The crisis of higher premium rates is due to excessive jury awards in the area of noneconomic damages, pain and suffering, exactly what caps are meant to address.”

The doctors and other medical leaders spoke to more than 50 physicians and onlookers at City Hall.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, also addressed the group, which favors his tort reform legislation.

“Our medical malpractice insurance system in the District of Columbia is in fact on life support,” said Mr. Williams, who is not seeking re-election next year. “Our doctors are paying the highest rates in the nation. Our … patients are losing access, and our doctors are losing hope.”

The mayor’s legislation would limit most jury awards for pain and suffering to $250,000 against physicians and $500,000 against hospitals. It died in the D.C. Council last year and has received little council support this year.

The doctors held their rally just before the council’s Judiciary Committee began a hearing on the mayor’s bill.

More than 50 patients rights advocates and a small band of anarchists waved signs and jeered at the mayor.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, an at-large Democrat who is running for mayor, has submitted a bill that essentially kills Mr. Williams’ tort reform plan by focusing on changing insurance regulations.

Her bill already has 10 co-sponsors among the 13-member council and is favored by at least one patients rights group.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, has submitted a bill that also negates the Williams plan. It calls for early mediation, mandatory reporting of medical errors and publishing insurance rates online to help reform the city’s medical malpractice insurance system.

The Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., which has about 500 members, also opposes the mayor’s plan, saying it would be unfair to patients.

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