Changes to Iowa’s Law Limit Medical Negligence Actions

Over a year ago, the Iowa legislature passed Senate File 465 which makes various changes to the section of Iowa’s Code relating to noneconomic damage awards against health care providers.  The effects of those changes are starting to be felt in the legal community, and most importantly by injured patients, as cases against health care providers have become more difficult to bring. Limiting medical negligence actions was by legislative design.  The supposed rationale behind the changes is to attract physicians and other health care professionals to Iowa by lowering premiums for medical malpractice insurance.  Unfortunately for injured patients, this policy decision might make their case less likely to reach the courts. 

The following are some of the key changes:

  • “Soft” Cap of $250,000 for Noneconomic Damages One of the most significant changes is the new limit on noneconomic damages applicable in all but the most extreme of cases.  Iowa previously had no such cap on damages to injured citizens.  Before the change, a jury would determine an appropriate amount based on the circumstances of the particular case. Now, an injured patient is limited to a damage award of $250,000 for “any occurrence resulting in injury or death of a patient . . . unless the jury determines that there is a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, substantial disfigurement, or death, which warrants a finding that imposition of such a limitation would deprive the plaintiff of just compensation for the injuries sustained.” Due to the recent nature of the change, it is unclear exactly what is required to determine whether a particular permanent impairment, disfigurement, or death warrants setting aside the cap.
  • Required Certificate of Merit Affidavit Another burden is the new requirement for the plaintiff, prior to discovery, to serve upon the defendant a certificate of merit affidavit.  This requires the plaintiff to find an expert familiar with the standard of care required and who can provide a statement as to how the standard of care was breached, all before discovery. This essentially requires the plaintiff to submit proof of medical negligence at the beginning of the case.  Failure to do so would result in a dismissal with prejudice, which bars the plaintiff from filing another suit on the same claim.
  • Standards for Expert Witness The changes also limit the experts a plaintiff can use by requiring the expert to meet certain standards.  To be qualified as an expert witness the person must be a licensed healthcare provider who has actively practiced in the same field as the defendant for the previous 5 years, or meet the other standards set forth in the law. Medical malpractice cases can still move forward, however, injured patients should be mindful that due to the new requirements some cases won’t be filed – and those that are will take more money to file.  As always, if you have any questions regarding the validity of a claim or any other legal issue don’t hesitate to contact one of the attorneys at Peters Law Firm: Jacob J. Peters Jordan T. Glaser

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