Litigation Center

Sweeping new tort reforms will protect Iowa physicians

After decades of advocating strong medical liability protections, Iowa physicians this summer will see comprehensive tort reforms become law.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has signed a bill that will take effect July 1. These are some of the reforms included in the legislation.

Limits noneconomic damages—awards that compensate for intangibles such as pain and suffering—to $250,000 in most cases. The cap will not apply in cases where the jury determines the care resulted in substantial or permanent loss or impairment of bodily function, substantial disfigurement or death.

Establishes stronger expert witness standards. The law requires that expert witnesses be licensed and in good standing in the same, or a substantially similar, field as the defendant. The witness also must have been in active practice or academia within the five years before the incident in the lawsuit occurred.

Requires a certificate of merit in all medical liability lawsuits. Plaintiffs will need an expert witness to certify that the standard of care was breached and explain how the standard was breached. This must happen within 60 days of the defendant’s response to the initial notice that a lawsuit was filed and before discovery starts. Otherwise, the lawsuit will be dismissed and cannot be refilled.

Expands Candor protections. Legislation enacted in 2015 established a framework through which  Iowa physicians can have frank discussions after an adverse outcome that results in a patient’s death or serious physical injury without fear that the information could later be used in court. The law passed this session further protects these discussions, expanding the protection to any adverse outcome that involves a physical injury. The protection also will extend to all members of the health care team.

Iowa Medical Society President Joyce Vista-Wayne, MD, said the historic achievement is a victory for all physicians, residents and medical students in Iowa.

“This success would not have been possible without the tireless work of so many individuals to give the house of medicine a strong voice in the legislative process,” Dr. Vista-Wayne said. “I am delighted to begin my tenure as president of the Iowa Medical Society with enactment of these sweeping reforms.”

The AMA supported the Iowa Medical Society in its effort to pass the comprehensive tort reform legislation. Physicians can find out more about the AMA’s efforts to reshape the medical liability system to better serve patients and physicians. The AMA is working to support liability reform on the state level, providing model legislation and other resources. The Association also is working on the federal level, for example, to support legislation that would protect physicians from medical liability exposure when they are volunteering during a federally declared disaster.