Speaker of the House outlines medical progress

June 25, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - West Virginia Speaker of the House of Delegates Robert S. Kiss, who recently formed a committee to determine whether he should seek a seat on the state Supreme Court, answered doctors' questions Tuesday night about the medical malpractice bill.

Kiss, D-Raleigh, addressed the group in a conference room at City Hospital in Martinsburg. By November he will decide whether to seek the justice's seat, Kiss said after his address.

Although time will be the ultimate test, Kiss said the recent legislative and special session may be the most productive he's seen since first elected in 1988.


Along with passing a bill dealing with the medical malpractice liability problem, legislators are putting the final touches on a bill that will address the workers' compensation system, which will go bankrupt if not repaired.

He stressed a "need for vigilance," including making sure only correct information about the medical liability bill is disseminated. No caps are in place for damages that can be proven, such as lost wages or medical bills, he said. Caps apply only to noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress.

The bill requires that an expert witness called to the stand at trial spend at least 70 percent of his or her time practicing in the field. Such a provision should prevent a "professional expert witness" from testifying, he said.

A "catastrophic injury fund" should be established so the family of someone who suffered severely from negligence receives a full award, even if it is millions of dollars, Kiss said. To work, the fund should be used only if absolutely necessary and also should be funded by "society as a whole," not via a tax on the health care community, he said.

Nobody in the Legislature wants the state to remain in the insurance business, Kiss said. A state-run physicians mutual will no longer be in the state's hands 18 months from now, he said.

David Ebbitt, a City Hospital emergency room doctor, asked Kiss whether he - if he were a health care provider - would stay in West Virginia two years from now if problems were still present.

If he were a high-risk provider, such as a surgeon or obstetrician, he probably would not, Kiss answered.

Asked whether he believes the malpractice liability bill will stand up to an appeal, Kiss said he was not confident it would withstand an appeal. Kiss said he was surprised an appeal had already been filed.

Courts are creating more social and economic policy, Kiss said, and even decided who would be in the White House, although Kiss said he was not criticizing the result.

West Virginia should look at holding nonpartisan elections for justices on the state Supreme Court, which is permitted under the state constitution, he said.

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