What Does The Word "Similar" Mean For Tort Reform?

Compared to the word "qualified," it means a lot

The Meaning of "Similar"
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The Meaning of "Similar"

INTRO: Connecticut legislators are discussing a bill that would make some changes to the way plaintiffs can file medical malpractice lawsuits in the state. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports on the testimony heard today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Lawyers, patients and doctors gathered in the capitol today to discuss the meaning of a deceptively simple word: the word “similar. If you wanted to sue your doctor today, Connecticut law says you need to get a quote “similar” health care provider to give the opinion that your lawsuit is a valid one. Senate Bill 243 would change the word similar to the word “qualified.” It sounds like a small change, but that depends on who you ask. Here’s what attorney Eric Stockman told WNPR’s “Where We Live” about the bill. Stockman defends doctors in malpractice lawsuits.

STOCKMAN: “In essence, the tort reform that was passed in 2005 will be diluted if not completely eviscerated by those changes.

Kathleen Nastri had a very different take when she appeared before the Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning. Nastri is a malpractice lawyer who represents patients.

NASTRI: “It attempts to remove a procedural trap for plaintiffs who otherwise have a meritorious case who deserve to have at least their case heard.”

Those in favor of the bill say that many malpractice lawsuits have been unfairly dismissed because the health care provider plaintiffs found wasn’t “similar” enough to the provider they were suing. Senator Eric Coleman gave an example when he questioned Nastri during her testimony.

COLEMAN: “Does it make any sense whatsoever that a OBGYN should not be able to offer an opinion regarding breach or not of the standard of care of a midwife performing the delivery of a child?”

NASTRI: “Absolutely not. It makes no sense.”  

Attorneys like Nastri and patient advocates argue that by changing the word “similar” to “qualified,” cases won’t get dismissed before they go to trial on an unfair technicality. But attorneys like Stockman worry that this means plaintiffs could get any health care provider to give them the opinion they’re looking for, even a provider who doesn’t have any expertise in the type of medical care the case is addressing.

The bill passed the House last year, but then died in the Senate after a lengthy debate. Senator John Kissel said he’s determined it will pass this year. 

KISSEL: “I really hope we get our arms around this early in the session, before the last few days, so that we can get it through the House and the Senate, because to stop anyone from at least having their day in court is not justice.”

On the other hand, other legislators worried it could open the floodgates for more medical malpractice lawsuits in Connecticut that further drive up health care costs.

For WNPR, I’m Neena Satija.