The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

December 13, 2005

Progress

There’s now clear evidence that tort reform is working

There is now some tangible proof that the hard-fought battle for tort reform in this state has produced some real victories.

While trial lawyers argued civil justice reforms would take away plaintiffs’ rights, lobbyists for reform insisted the results would be more affordable malpractice insurance for doctors, fewer frivolous malpractice lawsuits and a brighter economic future for West Virginia.

This week Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, enumerated the positive effects evident thus far.

Addressing lawmakers at an Interim session of the Legislature, Jenkins said that state mutual insurance is asking for a 5 percent reduction in medical malpractice premiums for physicians beginning in January.

That’s right — a reduction. Not another increase, which was becoming the norm just a couple of years ago. Every time physicians were up for renewal of their malpractice insurance, their premiums either skyrocketed, or their coverage was dropped.

Trial lawyers and some insurers blamed a high number of malpractice lawsuits. In many cases, however, physicians who were dropped had no pending lawsuits against them.

State insurance commissioner Jane Cline said new numbers show insurance providers, including the state mutual, are seeing defense costs come down, lower statistics in the numbers of claims filed and faster processing of claims for victims of malpractice.

Cline told lawmakers only about 10 percent of claims make it to court. She also said less than 3 percent of those claims have a non-zero judgment and most are settled out of court. Cases with merit are being settled, and cases without merit are being weeded out thanks to the new reforms, Cline said.

Despite the good news, we can’t throw caution to the wind. We need to carefully monitor malpractice cases before the state Supreme Court. The determinations in those cases will reveal whether or not the high court will uphold or discard some of those civil justice reforms.

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