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Governor Gregoire Announces Agreement Reached on Medical Liability Bill; Breakthrough Agreement Brings Together Doctors, Lawyers and Insurance Companies

For Immediate Release: February 20, 2006

OLYMPIA – Governor Chris Gregoire today announced that a breakthrough agreement has been reached on a proposal to improve patient safety and reform medical malpractice insurance and the civil justice system involving medical liability in Washington state.

“This agreement marks a very important step for Washington,” said Governor Gregoire. “There are strong issues that have kept these parties from coming together in the past but I am very pleased that they were put aside in order to find a solution that will help the citizens of our state. This is a good first step forward.”

“This is another good example of how, by working together, compromise can be reached on very difficult issues,” added Governor Gregoire.

Work began several weeks ago when Governor Gregoire convened a working group with the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, the Washington State Hospital Association, the Washington State Medical Association, the Washington State Bar Association and Physician’s Insurance. She worked successfully to negotiate an agreement among all five organizations.

Agreement was reached on several key provisions, including statements of apology by health care providers, evidence of offsetting outside sources of compensation such as insurance, and a new voluntary binding arbitration procedure for certain medical liability actions.

“With the insurance reforms in this bill, we will have meaningful data on medical malpractice claims for the first time ever – the cost of claims, settlements and jury awards. This means we can make critical policy decisions based on facts rather than anecdotes,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

“These organizations were adversaries on two contentious ballot initiatives last fall. Governor Gregoire put a significant amount of time and effort into bringing them together and negotiating a workable compromise. Her leadership made the difference in this important first step towards medical liability reform,” said Randy Revelle, senior vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association.

“This revised legislation represents compromises made by both sides in the ongoing debate on liability reform. The bill will improve patient safety, enhance insurance company liability reporting and provide some improvements to how cases are handled in court,” said John Budlong of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.

“The discussions led by Governor Gregoire over the past several weeks have resulted in a number of improvements to this bill, but we still have work to do,” said Peter Dunbar, president of the Washington State Medical Association. “This is a good first step and we continue to hope we can achieve fundamental, comprehensive reform.”

House Bill 2292, addressing health care liability reform, is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Health and Long Term Care committee on Monday afternoon.