Proposal revives efforts to revamp Georgia’s medical malpractice system

Proposed legislation that would radically overhaul Georgia’s medical malpractice system is back at the Georgia Legislature, despite continued opposition from lawyers and consumer advocates who call the effort unconstitutional.

Senate Bill 86 would create a new administrative system that would be the first of its kind in the country, handling all patients’ claims of malpractice instead of the courts.

The Patient Compensation Act, sponsored by state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, would set limits on how much money a victim of medical malpractice could earn and would also force doctors and other providers to pay into an administrative fund to cover those limited financial awards.

Supporters of SB 86 say the changes would avoid lengthy and costly jury trials that many patients can’t afford. They also say it would reduce the use of so-called “defensive medicine” practices, in which doctors order unnecessary medical tests to protect themselves in case of lawsuits and, in turn, drive up health care costs.

The bill’s opponents say it denies patients the right to have their complaints heard by a jury of their peers, a cornerstone of the nation’s legal system. They also say it could actually lead to higher health care costs and more administrative headaches for doctors.

Past efforts to establish an administrative system to handle medical malpractice claims failed as recently as last year. Beach reintroduced the bill Monday, and it prompted an immediate response from the state’s leading lawyers group.

“Replacing the time-tested civil jury system with a taxpayer-funded bureaucratic government agency would be an egregious infringement on Georgia citizens’ constitutional rights,” Georgia Trial Lawyers Association President Linley Jones said in a statement. “Senate Bill 86 eliminates all current procedural safeguards, legitimate accountability mechanisms and meaningful appeals processes.”

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