Friday, April 10, 2009 | 11:08 a.m.
CARSON CITY – By an 8-6 vote, an Assembly committee approved a bill to allow patients who are victims of gross medical negligence to sue for unlimited pain and suffering damages.
Supporters of Assembly Bill 495 said the bill will protect patients who are harmed by bad doctors. Opponents said it will drive physicians insurance rates up and prompt doctors to leave Nevada.
The bill, approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, goes to the floor of the Assembly.
Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said bad doctors are protected by the current law and the bill provides a “good compromise.”
There has been criticism of the state Board of Medical Examiners that it has not punished bad doctors or acted swiftly when patients were endangered by bad physicians.
Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said the “net effect” will be to raise the insurance rates on all doctors, not just the bad ones. There will be fewer doctors in the specialties the state needs, he said. In a prior hearing, insurance and doctors predicted enactment of the bill would drive medical malpractice insurance up by 50-65 percent.
The present law limits non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits to $350,000. This bill would permit unlimited damages for instances of gross negligence. It would also give patients an extra year to determine if they should bring suit.
The bill will come up for a possible vote in the full Assembly next week.
Bill Bradley, a Reno lawyer representing patients, said this bill, sends a message to physicians that they should report any doctor they see practicing bad medicine.
But Jim Wadhams, attorney representing the Nevada Hospital Association, said “This change will destabilize insurance rates and we will lose good doctors.”
Wadhams said there are a number of bills in the Legislature trying to entice specialty doctors to come to Nevada. But this bill will hurt that effort.
The bill provides that suits for injury or death against a doctor may not be commenced more than four years after the date of injury or two years after the plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the injury. That is one year longer now than the current statute of limitation.
Voting against the bill were Republicans Cobb, John Carpenter of Elko Don Gustavson of Sparks, Richard McArthur and John Hambrick both of Las Vegas. The lone Democrat to oppose the bill was Bonnie Parnell of Carson City.