Malpractice Bill Clears House

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Governor Ronnie Musgrove called lawmakers back to the Capitol to consider a private prison spending bill and a plan to establish a malpractice insurance pool for doctors and other health care workers who are having trouble finding coverage.

The prison proposal died within hours of the session's start.

A House committee of 13 members crafted a medical malpractice bill, loaded with 15 amendments and a $1 million cap on damages for pain and suffering.

It was debated in the House into the evening hours. By a vote of 102
to 18, the House adopted a medical malpractice tort reform bill. All members of the Lauderdale County delegation voted to approve it.

The issue is emotional. Yvonne Powell from Richton opposed tort reform because of a wood chip plant in her town that she said was poisoning people.

"It would put a cap on the punitive damages for the people like children with leukemia that may need medical for the rest of their lives," said Powell. "Some type of sanction should be given to these children. If industry has a cap on what we can recover, then it wouldn't be compensated."

Trial attorney Ed Williamson of Philadelphia was there in opposition to capping pain and suffering malpractice awards.

"How can a jury judge an individual and judge the wrong and the harm and the loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering by a cap?" asked Williamson. "I'm opposed to them philosophically because if we are for full accountability, why should we not have full accountability when it comes to the table of justice?"

But Dr. John Cook, president of the Mississippi Medical Association, doesn't see it that way. He said the business anbd medical communities stand together.

"The civil justice system affects anyone in the state of Mississippi who has a business," said Cook. "The medical community realizes our patients are at stake. The business community has other reasons for being involved in this, but we do stand as one. The question that is what is good for business is good for medicine, what is good for medicine and hospitals is good for business but even more importantly it's good for patients as well."

The Senate will propose its own version of a medical malpractice bill Friday, to be followed by a conference committee meeting between
the two houses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.