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A Northwestern University School of Law study shows that two types of tort law changes significantly reduced medical malpractice settlement payments. The study, by associate professor Ronen Avraham, concludes that the state tort changes cut the average payments in half and reduced the incidence of cases by 10%. The changes capped “pain and suffering” awards and kept plaintiffs from recovering more than their share from so-called “deep-pocket” clients. Still, when the two changes were considered along with four others, the impact on average or total annual payments was “statistically insignificant,” though the revisions did reduce the number of cases. The other four changes to laws included caps on punitive damages, reduction of payments for plaintiffs that have insurance coverage, a higher level of evidence required for punitive damages and plaintiff payments spread over time. The changes resemble those proposed by the Bush administration, giving a view of “the expected impact of the federal bill,” according to a press release. In the study, to be released Oct. 31, Avraham reviewed 100,000 cases from 1991 to 1998, including those that settled, in an analysis that included all 50 states.

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