Physicians pack seminar in search of tort reforms

Sunday, February 1, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Gov. Bob Holden and the two candidates vying to defeat his re-election bid told hundreds of doctors here they support meaningful reform for lawsuits related to alleged malpractice.

Holden, fellow Democrat and State Auditor Claire McCaskill, and Secretary of State Matt Blunt, a Republican, were responding to the frustration and anger of 600 doctors who packed a daylong political-action seminar Friday in St. Louis.

The doctors want to find out how to win reforms that could yield lower liability-insurance premiums. The forum was sponsored by the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society.

All said they will support reform, including curbing excesses in the system and limiting or eliminating the practice of so-called "venue shopping" -- or suing in a court that's most likely to yield the largest verdict or settlement rather than one in the community where the injury occurred.

Rep. Richard G. Byrd, R-Kirkwood, a lawyer and the sponsor of a so-called "tort reform" bill in the House, told the audience that venue limits must apply equally to all Missouri businesses to be effective.

Wrapped in a white coatHolden disagreed. He said physicians can receive protections from venue shopping not afforded to other industries.

Holden said he vetoed the reform bill last year because it offered special protections for paddleboat rental companies, nursing homes and other consumer industries.

"It was a bill that wrapped itself in a white coat," he said. "I want to see a bill that focuses on medical malpractice and medical malpractice alone."

McCaskill, who will face Holden in the August primary, urged doctors to ask for a Democratic ballot and vote for her.

Physicians as a group are aligned with the Republican party while trial lawyers have put their muscle behind Democratic candidates. McCaskill, a lawyer, told the physicians that trial lawyers give $1,000 for every $1 that doctors give to political campaigns.

"People in Jefferson City say you guys don't get it," she said.

McCaskill said Holden wants to appease the trial lawyers while the Republican party wants to curry favor with business. "I firmly believe neither side of the equation wanted success last year" with tort reform, she said. "You are being squeezed and squeezed," she told the doctors.

Blunt said legislation should be crafted so that legal jeopardy applies to bad conduct and not bad medical outcomes. "In our culture, it is increasingly likely that health care providers will be sued because of negative outcomes," he said.

Dr. Norman S. Druck, the newly installed president of the medical society, said patients who have been wronged should have access to the courts, but the current system is unfairly weighted against physicians.

"We do have a system that is severely out of balance," Druck said. "All too often it is misused. It makes us less efficient and it interferes with the physician-patient relationship at all levels."

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