Since Rep. Steve Urquhart is thinking about medical malpractice lawsuit reform ("reform" usually meaning whatever the doctors want lately), we thought we would offer two ideas that legislators ought to love: They will produce lower verdicts in most personal injury lawsuits, and curb some overreaching by plaintiffs' attorneys.
1. Limit medical expense recovery to the amount actually paid, rather than larger "billed" amounts. Idaho and other states already have statutes that do this. Presently, a p.i. plaintiff is entitled to the "reasonable" value of medical expenses, which is usually the full amount billed. Often, however, providers have agreed in advance (through contracts with health insurers, for example) to accept much lower amounts, so the "billed" amount is just an arbitrary figure.
Plaintiffs should be limited to (1) the amount actually accepted as full payment by providers, rather than fictitious, larger "billed" amounts, plus (2) any out-of-pocket amounts, such as co-pays, uninsured expenses, etc. This would cut the medical-expense portion of p.i. claims by as much as 40 percent, without actually costing plaintiffs real money. (The difference between the amount paid and the amount billed is just a windfall for the plaintiff.)
2. Prohibit plaintiffs from asking for punitive damages in their complaint. Again, Idaho is ahead of us on this one. There, a plaintiff cannot plead punitive damages in his initial court filing. Rather, he has to file a separate motion later in the case, laying out his evidence and asking the judge to let him add a punitive damage count. This reduces stress on defendants (punitive damages are usually not covered by insurance), and prevents a plaintiff from trying to get invasive financial information through the discovery process just because they have alleged punitive damages.