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Proposal could lead to medical malpractice panels

Good health is precious to every Georgia resident. Accordingly, the thousands of reports of medical malpractice concern more and more Americans each year. Several states, including Georgia, are reacting by altering current laws regarding medical malpractice. Though important to all, not everyone can agree on the proper legal structure for dealing with this issue: for example, while some applauded the 2005 Georgia law capping malpractice compensation at $350,000, four years later, the state Supreme Court struck down the same law as unconstitutional.

The most recent attempt at medical malpractice legal reform proposes the system function more like worker's compensation. Under the proposed law, patients would not go to court to settle a malpractice claim. Instead, a board of physicians would judge the claims and determine settlement amounts. Awards would be paid to medical malpractice victims out of a fund into which all providers would pay.

Some claim the new system would help those victims who feel their medical malpractice claims are too small to justify working with legal representation. Opponents to the law, however, argue that such a system would rob plaintiffs of their constitutional right to have their case heard in court.

Currently, Georgians who have been victims of medical malpractice can take their case directly to court. While the first step in a medical malpractice incident would generally be to contact one's medical provider to see if the issue can be resolved, legal measures can ultimately obtain compensation for a patient who suffered from a defective medical device or misdiagnosis, for example, or may even compensate a victim's family in the case of a wrongful death.

With several proposed changes in Georgia's medical malpractice system being raised and struck down, it is difficult to predict the future of the field. As with the settlement caps in 2005, the current proposal would alter the way victims seek compensation for their injuries. In the meantime, however, victims of a physician's negligence, hospital error or other incident of medical malpractice need to be aware of their legal rights to seek compensation for medical expenses and other costs through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: The Florida Times-Union, "Bill would take medical malpractice out of courts, put it before physicians panel," Walter C. Jones, Feb. 8, 2013

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