ERISA Preemption
The text of ERISA does not mention medical malpractice lawsuits and there was no discussion of them in the congressional hearings preceding the adoption of ERISA. Nonetheless, the broad language of ERISA that exempts ERISA plans from state regulation has been construed by the courts to prevent state tort lawsuits against ERISA plans. [Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58 (1987).] In most cases where a denial of benefits is challenged because the plan claimed they were excluded under the contract, courts find the claims to be preempted. [Katz v. Colonial Life Ins. Co. of Am., 951 F. Supp. 36 (S.D.N.Y. 1997).] Some courts have gone farther and held that ERISA preempts medical malpractice claims against ERISA plans, although it is generally accepted now that ERISA does not preempt ordinary vicarious liability claims for physicians who are employees of the plan, rather than independent contractors. ERISA does not affect the employee or contract physician’s liability for medical malpractice, so the physician is left as the target defendant when the plaintiff’s case against the plan is dismissed.