Governor Branstad Signs Medical Malpractice Reform Bill

 

The legislature passed Senate File 465 and on Friday, May 5, Governor Branstad signed it into law.  This bills reforms Iowa’s medical malpractice law by enacting the following provisions:

$250,000 Cap on Economic Damages – The legislation caps noneconomic damages, awards meant to compensate for intangible damages like pain and suffering, at no more than $250,000.  The cap does not affect economic damages, which compensate for tangible losses like lost wages and the costs of medical care, as well as punitive damages that penalize egregious behavior.  The cap on noneconomic damages does not apply in cases where a jury determines that the care in question resulted in a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, substantial disfigurement, or death.

Expanded CANDOR Protections – Enacted in 2015, Iowa’s Candor statute allows physicians to engage their patients in frank and confidential discussions following an adverse outcome, without concern that the information share in these discussions might later be used against the physician in court.  Under current law, only cases of death or serious physical injury qualify for the Candor protections.  SF 465 lowers that threshold so any cases of physical injury would qualify.  It also expands the list of providers able to initiate a Candor discussion from just physicians, ARNPs, physical assistants, and podiatrists to include all members of the healthcare team.

Strengthened Expert Witness Standards – The bill strengthens expert witness standards by requiring the expert to be licensed and in good standing in the same or similar field as the defendant and have practiced within 5 years preceding the incident in question.  If the defendant is board certified, the expert must also be board certified; this applies for a physician defendant to a physician expert.

Certificate of Merit – The bill requires plaintiffs to file a certificate of merit by an expert witness who certifies that the standard of care was breached and how it was breached; this must be filed within 60 days of the defendant’s response to the initial notice that a suit has been initiated.