Governor of the State of New Mexico Signs Revisions to Medical Malpractice Law

To prevent an interruption in health care services, the Senate Judiciary Committee in New Mexico made technical changes to the bill created by an alliance of trial lawyers, doctors, patient advocates, and hospital managers. The proposal of the coalition aims to ensure that independent doctors can continue their practice in hospitals and for independently-owned outpatient clinics to stay open. According to reports, without the new law or the emergency legislation, insurance companies will not provide insurance after December 31 because of legal liability. 

The New Mexico Medical Malpractice Act

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the overhauled New Mexico Malpractice Law into legislation in April 2021. The new malpractice law will take effect on January 1, 2022. The bill, which was intensely debated, aims to strike a balance between allowing New Mexico doctors access to affordable insurance and at the same time, make sure that patients harmed by wrongdoing can get justice. It puts a cap of $4 million on malpractice lawsuits against big hospitals and $750,000 for smaller providers.

However, if the law is not modified, outpatient health care facilities will not be able to afford adequate liability insurance to cover a $4 million settlement. Remember that each state has different malpractice time limits. In New Mexico, the medical malpractice statute of limitations is 3 years. For kids younger than 6 years, the statute will expire when the child turns 9. Malpractice cases can take months or years to resolve. Each side must adhere to a strict process and perform a thorough investigation. However, when a fair settlement is reached or decision has been taken in favor of claimants, payouts cost a lot of money to insurance providers and doctors. 

Proposed Legislation Changes

Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil and Doreen Gallegos, two Democratic lawmakers introduced House Bill 11 that would put a moratorium on payments. The bill will ensure that independent health providers will not pay more than $750,000 per claim for at least 18 months, starting January 1, 2022. The bill received the approval of the House on a 63-2 vote.

In a related matter, the emergency legislation to update the state’s new medical malpractice law moved closer to passage. Democrat Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque revised the bill with the agreement of the coalition of lawyers and doctors.  According to Albuquerque lawyer and former president of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association Kathy Love, the amended bill achieves their goal of keeping facilities open and patients attended to. The limits for hospitals, clinics, and other providers in the healthcare system vary. House Speaker Brian Egolf said that the amendments are ‘more friendly than not,’ hinting that the House will accept them. He added that the changes are critical to keep the delivery of health services flowing to patients. The bill must be approved by both chambers.  

New Mexico’s Medical Malpractice Act was revamped earlier this year undergoing delicate negotiations and debates among patients, hospitals, lawyers, and health care providers. Emergency legislation is moving closer to passage to prevent an interruption in the delivery of care services.