Saturday, December 11, 2004

About 70 percent of Maryland’s obstetricians and gynecologists have been sued at least once, with the average settlement exceeding $1 million, a study shows.

The report — titled “Medical Malpractice: Is It Time for Tort Reform in Maryland?” — also says that the average malpractice insurance premium for state OB-GYNs will reach $150,000 this year, though there is no evidence that those physicians were negligent.

“That is not atypical for the United States,” said the study’s author, Michael I. Krauss, a professor at the George Mason University School of Law who specializes in tort reform and legal ethics. “There are some states that are above 70 percent. Maryland’s crisis is not an anomaly.”

Maryland doctors have said a 33 percent increase in malpractice insurance premiums this year will force them out of the state or out of business. Premiums were increased 28 percent last year and 10 percent in 2002.

The 23-page study examines various aspects of medical malpractice and tort reform, including caps on jury awards, “no-fault” compensation and limits on attorney fees. It concludes that Maryland would benefit from tort reform, noting that the state’s previous reforms have had a “real impact” on medical malpractice cases.

“I am saying, ‘Let’s understand what tort law is about in order to able to reform medical malpractice,’” Mr. Krauss said.

Mr. Krauss said he opposes a proposed state-sponsored fund that would cover doctors’ higher premiums but supports caps on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering.

His study was published by the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research and education group based in Germantown.

The state’s largest medical malpractice insurer — the Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland — has said it is suffering from a surge in malpractice payouts. The insurer, which covers about 6,000 doctors statewide, has been authorized to increase premiums by 33 percent on Dec. 31.

State officials are said to be considering using $30 million to $50 million in taxpayer funds to cover the higher premiums this year.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has led the reform effort, has not publicly discussed the cost or indicated how he would pay medical insurers.

But the Republican governor has said no money from the state’s general fund will be used and he will not consider a tax on health maintenance organizations that would generate about $80 million.

Mr. Ehrlich is working with Democratic legislative leaders to craft tort-reform legislation for a proposed special session of the General Assembly this year.

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