While West Virginia has had caps on non-economic damages (i.e. pain and suffering) in malpractice cases since the late 1980s in 2003 the state legislature passed a reform measure that reduced the cap to $250,000 in most cases, and $500,000 in cases of wrongful death, substantial and permanent disfigurement/loss of use of a limb/loss of a bodily organ system, or permanent physical or mental injury that renders the victim incapable of independently caring for themselves. These caps adjust slightly each year with the Consumer Price Index. In 2011 these caps withstood a constitutional challenge before the West Virginia Supreme Court, so it seems likely that they will stand indefinitely.
In addition to caps on non-economic damages, West Virginia also requires that a certificate of merit be filed with any malpractice claim. The certificate of merit is filled out by an expert and indicates:
West Virginia has a two year basic statute of limitations and a discovery rule. What this means is that a patient must bring a cause of action within two years of the alleged injury or within two years of when the patient discovered, or reasonably should have discovered, the injury assuming due diligence. The only exception to this rule is that minor claimants under the age of 10 have either two years or until their 12th birthday to file, whichever period is longer.
West Virginia is one of the few states that does not require licensed physicians to carry medical professional liability insurance. However, to not do so would be extremely risky, and most doctors in the state carry the fairly standard $1M per occurrence $3M per policy period (1 year) limits.
West Virginia is a state that has endured relatively high medical liability premiums in previous years. The late 90’s and early 2000’s saw an exodus of medical malpractice insurance carriers from the state, which left physicians with few options. However, after the market stabilizing creation of a state run medical malpractice insurance fund and the implementation of caps on non-economic damages in the early 2000’s, physician owned medical malpractice insurance carriers became prominent and offered doctors more choices.
Premiums have been steadily decreasing as the long-term effects of tort reform have developed. Recently, the medical malpractice insurance market has seen growth in options, which has led to further price competition to the benefit of the physicians of West Virginia. While West Virginia remains a challenged state in litigiousness and expense of practice, physicians are enjoying a positive momentum when it comes to medical malpractice premiums. Patients have seen their options grow, as many quality physicians have opened or joined medical practices in recent years in response to this momentum.
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