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Philly May See Malpractice Reforms

March 8, 2002

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Attorneys rushed to file hundreds of medical-negligence lawsuits last month in advance of proposed reforms that could make it tougher to win lucrative judgments against doctors and hospitals.

The heaviest rush came Feb. 12 and 13, when the state Senate and House voted on malpractice bills. A total of 294 lawsuits were initiated _ nearly equal the number of cases filed the first 90 days of 2001.

In all, 414 malpractice cases were filed in February, nearly five times the average filed the same month over the previous decade, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday.

State Senate reforms, passed Feb. 12, would prevent patients from claiming damages for benefits paid by a third party, such as health insurance. The bill also would let hospitals and doctors pay for future medical expenses over time, rather than in a lump sum.

The House version, passed a day later, was amended. The House and Senate must agree on a single bill before it becomes law.

``When my partner and I first learned of the potential draconian law that was going to come down ... we decided that we had to do what we needed to do to protect our clients,″ said attorney Michael F. Barrett, who filed 24 cases, more than any other lawyer.

Doctors have pleaded for reforms, saying they have been crippled by huge increases in malpractice insurance premiums. Insurance companies blame rate hikes on the increasing success of negligence lawsuits and bigger damages awarded by juries.

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