Montana has been tweaking general liability and medical malpractice laws on a fairly regular basis over the last several decades resulting in a situation today where many of the most popular and successful tort reform measures are now reflected in Montana state law. For instance, Montana has a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. And while this does not affect non-economic or punitive damage awards, there is an additional cap of $10M or 3% of the defendant’s net worth (whichever is less) on punitive damages, which may only be awarded in cases where fraud or malice is proved. In addition to these caps, Montana has a rule requiring damages payments in death or disability liability cases to be offset by any collateral sources (i.e. insurance payments, etc.) if the total damages award (including non-economic and economic damages) is more than $50,000.
In Montana the statute of limitations allows for a malpractice claim to be filed up to three years from the date of the alleged injury or discovery of the alleged injury. However, a statute of repose places a five year absolute cap on the length of time after the alleged injury that a claim may be filed. In other words, a claim may be filed up to three years after discovery of the alleged injury, but only if no more than five years total has elapsed since the original date of the alleged injury. For minors under the age of 4 when the alleged injury occurs the statutes of limitation and repose begin running when the child turns 8 or upon death.
Since the late 1970s Montana has had in place a system that requires any potential malpractice claim to first be brought before a medical legal panel consisting of three health care providers and three attorneys. The hearing is informal, but does allow for both sides to present their case, after which the panel rules as to whether the claimant has substantial evidence, whether malpractice appears to have occurred, and whether there is a reasonable probability that the acts cited by the claimant caused injury. The panel may recommend an award and/or facilitate settlement proceedings, however the panel’s judgment is non-binding and not admissible in any proceeding trial.
Montana has a very positive liability environment. The state has put in place tort reform measures that are similar or identical to those recommended by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in its analysis of the potential for healthcare savings through tort reform. In addition to a strong legal and risk environment Montana has a good number of providers offering strong competition and a healthy market. Costs should remain very reasonable for the foreseeable future.
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