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Sen. Udall, Justice Kourlis Launch Effort to Reduce Cost of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

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Location: Washington, DC

Amendment Would Help State Courts Develop New Rules and Procedures to Reduce Complexity and Cost of Litigation While Preserving Rights on Both Sides

Today, U.S. Senator Mark Udall introduced an amendment to the health insurance reform bill designed to tackle an important piece of the health care debate: the cost of medical malpractice lawsuits.

The amendment was written after extensive conversations with former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis - who now leads the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), a nonprofit think tank dedicated to improving the U.S. civil justice system. The goal of the amendment is to streamline pretrial court procedures to reduce cost and delay, allowing parties access to earlier and more cost-effective resolution by judge or jury, and thereby saving patients, doctors and insurance companies money.

"I've found in Congress that trying to find any middle ground on this issue is like engineering a peace settlement in the Middle East. But I believe that reform of the health care system needs to go hand-in-hand with reform of the legal system, and that's why I've offered this amendment," Senator Udall said.

"We're telling health care providers that they need to update procedures - by developing electronic health records, for example - that reflect the needs of a modernizing society. The antiquated legal system needs to modernize as well, and that's what we're hoping to do through my amendment," Senator Udall continued. "Our hope is to allow interested jurisdictions to become laboratories of reform looking at what's contributing to the costs of litigation and how they can be improved fairly for both sides."

Specifically, Senator Udall's amendment would establish a grant program to provide needed support so state court systems - which handle the bulk of the medical malpractice cases filed in the United States - can investigate the sources of the problem, but more importantly, implement and measure much-needed solutions.

"Streamlining the process to facilitate greater fairness, efficiency and affordability is what it's all about," Justice Kourlis said. "This proposal takes that aspiration and puts teeth into it."

Senator Udall and Justice Kourlis believe court reforms like these should be an important part of the discussion about health reform. While experts estimate that medical malpractice accounts for about one half of one percent of the nation's health care costs, it is a significant issue: state courts are under-funded, the volume and complexity of litigation has expanded, and medical malpractice insurance costs are rising and impacting the cost of health care. Both plaintiffs and defendants are also frustrated by the length of time it takes to get cases tried and adjudicated.

Senator Udall's amendment builds on recommendations IAALS released earlier this year that advocate an overhaul of the 70-plus year-old roadmap of the U.S. legal system - the rules of civil procedure. One recommendation is to limit the number of expert witness per party for any given issue in a lawsuit and to require a detailed report from one expert to reduce the need for a deposition in most cases. According to Justice Kourlis, these recommendations "just make good common sense."


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