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March 13, 2003

Chamber Cheers WV Medical Liability and Venue Reforms

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 14 – The United States Chamber of Commerce today complimented the West Virginia State Legislature for passing and Governor Bob Wise for signing into law a medical liability reform bill that will help doctors and hospitals to continue meeting the health care needs of West Virginians.

“West Virginia’s medical liability system was in desperate need of a cure,” said Thomas J. Donohue, Chamber President and CEO. “Protecting health care providers from excessive liability not only ensures that citizens have better access to quality health care, but also creates a more favorable climate for economic development.”

The U.S. Chamber and its Institute for Legal Reform have been working closely with local groups such as the West Virginia Chamber and West Virginia State Medical Association to urge state lawmakers to pass meaningful legal reforms. West Virginia’s legal system ranked next to last in a Chamber-commissioned Harris poll of corporate counsels. The chambers also ran full-page ads statewide to highlight the need for legislative action.

The new law places a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, a reduction from the current $1 million cap, but allows a higher cap of $500,000 for wrongful death, loss of use of limb or body organ system, or significant physical or mental impairment that results in a person not being able to carry out “life sustaining activities.” Other provisions protect defendants from being liable for more than their fair share of fault, and require that only those who spend at least 60% of their time in a medical specialty are allowed to serve as expert witnesses at trials.

Separately, the legislature approved a “venue” bill that allows West Virginia courts to hear only those civil cases that involve injuries or damage-causing circumstances that actually occurred in West Virginia.

“While it is satisfying to know that Delegates and Senators acted responsibly by approving medical liability and venue reforms, we are disappointed that they failed to pass several other important legal reforms.” Donohue noted. “The U.S. Chamber is now exploring ways to encourage elected officials to address these remaining issues in a timely manner.”

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