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CHICAGO — The American Medical Association this week adopted new principles for establishing health courts, or special courts with judges trained in medical standards that it says could lead to a “fairer and more expedited resolution of medical liability claims.” No such courts currently exist and the association is recommending them for use only on the state and local levels, perhaps on a pilot basis at first. “Verdicts could be based more on whether there was a deviation from the standard of care and less on emotional appeals to juries,” the association said in a board of trustees report presented at its annual meeting this week in Chicago. “A higher percentage of victims of medical negligence could receive compensation, and a higher percentage of frivolous claims could be dismissed.” While many states have limited liability for the medical profession through laws that were modeled on the 1975 California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act to cap non-economic damages at $250,000, other parts of the country haven’t enacted such laws and are seeing higher medical liability premiums for doctors, the association said. Some people in the medical community have said such rising premiums drive doctors and other healthcare professionals out of communities. The AMA principles propose a minimum threshold for awarding damages should be proof of negligence and that the courts should attempt to resolve all claims within a year of a filing. Statements of sympathy, apology or regret by a healthcare worker shouldn’t be allowed as evidence of an admission of liability, the AMA recommended. Awards for economic damages should not be limited, but non-economic damages should adhere to a schedule of specified awards so that various injuries result in consistent awards, the association proposed. Punitive damages would only be allowed in cases of oppression, fraud, malice or intent to harm. The association also recommended limiting attorney fees to maximize awards to the plaintiff patient and funding the courts with government or foundations money because the costs remain unknown and could be a burden to physicians. Judges for the courts would be appointed by a task force made up of four lawyers, four doctors and four lay people who are selected by a state’s legislative leaders, under the AMA’s principles. Only doctors would be allowed to testify as expert witnesses. The principles also suggested that appeals be handled within the health court system and the statute of limitations on bringing cases be two years from the date of the act of medical malpractice.

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