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New Iowa Medical Malpractice Reform Law

On May 5, 2017, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed into law a bill that reforms medical malpractice laws in Iowa. 

Iowa Code § 147.136A will set a limit of $250,000 for awards of non-economic damages in negligence cases against health care providers.  Non-economic damages consist of pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of chance, loss of consortium, or any other non-pecuniary damages.  Non-economic damages do not include any damages for medical expenses incurred. This new cap has numerous exceptions, however.  The $250,000 limit will not apply if a jury determines that the plaintiff suffered a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, substantial disfigurement, or death.  Furthermore, this limitation does not apply if the defendant acted with actual malice rather than negligence.

In newly amended Iowa Code § 147.139, Iowa’s new medical malpractice reform law also changes the qualifications for expert testimony.  To testify about the standard of care, an expert must now be licensed to practice in the same or a substantially similar field as the defendant.  Prior to this reform, courts allowed physicians with a different specialty, or even non-physicians, to give opinion on the standard of care for a defendant.  Now, if the defendant is board certified in a specialty, an expert witness must be board certified in the same or substantially similar specialty.  The new law also adds several requirements for the licensing status and practice experience a person must have to qualify as an expert witness.    

Finally, Iowa’s new medical malpractice reform law now requires a plaintiff to obtain a certificate of merit before the case proceeds to discovery.  Iowa Code § 147.140 requires that the plaintiff must provide an affidavit, signed by a qualified expert who is familiar with the case, stating that the defendant breached the standard of care.  The certificate requirement is designed to prevent frivolous actions from being litigated, and brings Iowa law into line with states like Illinois, which requires a certificate of merit at the start of any medical malpractice case. 

Bozeman, Neighbour, Patton & Noe, LLP, litigates medical malpractice cases in both Iowa and Illinois. For assistance with any of these matters, please contact our experienced Civil Litigation attorneys.