Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed a number of bills that were designed to make Virginia more business-friendly, including three advanced by the Medical Society of Virginia. The tort reform measures hammered out in early-session negotiations all have been signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
One bill backed by doctors will make it easier to shift costs for last-minute nonsuits. In addition, medical providers can ask a judge to examine the prerequisite expert opinion for a medical malpractice lawsuit, and medical providers will have more leeway to challenge claims on behalf of deceased patients.
The last bill to be signed by McDonnell is a measure to conform the statute of limitations periods for children’s injuries claims and their parents’ claims for medical expenses. McDonnell gave his approval March 21.
Under that bill, the parent’s ability to claim medical expenses will be eliminated. All claims for medical expenses will have to be filed with the child’s case and would fall under the medical malpractice cap, according to a summary from the MSV.
Claims for the child’s medical bills would be governed by the child’s statute of limitations.
Additional new measures passed by the legislators will relax somewhat the procedural barrier to summary judgment in Virginia civil suits, limit a plaintiff’s options for picking a friendly court, and close the door on any expansion of a landowner’s responsibility for a trespasser’s safety.
At a legislative update session at the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association’s annual meeting March 23, Del. David B. Albo, R-Springfield and chair of the House Courts committee, praised the cooperation between the VTLA and the MSV.
“They should be mortal enemies… but here they meet and work things out,” Albo said.
Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, agreed, noting that on bills such as venue changes, there “was not a knock-down drag-out” between the two sides.
The strength of the reform campaign took some by surprise early in the Assembly session. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce last year signaled a tort reform push at this year’s Assembly, but the offensive took on larger dimensions as the session began. A separate group, the Virginia Alliance for Tort Reform, suddenly emerged with deep pockets, a fresh website and a high powered team of lobbyists.
At the VTLA session, Albo echoed his earlier thoughts that Virginia already was the most business-friendly state and that “tort reform” was unnecessary. But he said that VTLA leaders, recognizing reality and the strength of the VATR effort, decided to negotiate with that group.
Spurred on by Albo and others in the Assembly, discussions were held among the tort reformers, the VTLA and the Medical Society.
Once a compromise package was announced Jan. 23, it was smooth sailing for the most part at the Assembly. “It looks to us that the legislators down there were grateful to have agreement and are not eager to revisit this ground again soon,” said Jack L. Harris, executive director of the VTLA.
Harris made clear the VTLA will not welcome efforts to reopen the debate over the state’s tort system. “It is our expectation that we will not be seeing this issue again for some time,” he said.
“We don’t believe the summary judgment and venue changes were really needed,” Harris said. The existing rules were “fair and balanced,” he added.
Trial lawyers welcomed the clarification of procedures with the nonsuit bill and the measure extending parents’ opportunity to recover their medical expenses for injured children, Harris said.
A statement from the tort reform alliance betrayed no regrets about the compromise. “We are very pleased with the results from the tort reform legislative package this year,” said spokesman Robert W. Shinn in an email. “The measures that passed will help the business community with regard to a number of key issues.”
The Medical Society of Virginia saw its reform agenda emerge unscathed from the process. Doctors sought the changes in the nonsuit procedure, relaxation of the “deadman’s statute,” and judicial review of plaintiffs’ expert certification opinion. “The feedback from physicians has been very positive,” said W. Scott Johnson, general counsel for the MSV.
– With reporting from Williamsburg by Paul Fletcher