(a) This section and Sections 6-5-548 and 6-5-549 shall be known and may be cited as "The Alabama Medical Liability Act of 1996."
(b) The Legislature of the State of Alabama finds and declares that a crisis continues to threaten the delivery and availability of medical services to the people of Alabama and the health and safety of the citizens of this state are in jeopardy as a result of this crisis. In accordance with the previous declarations of the Legislature of Alabama in Sections 6-5-480 to 6-5-488, inclusive, 27-26-1 to 27-26-4, inclusive, and 27-26-20 to 27-26-43, inclusive, and Sections 6-5-540 to 6-5-552, inclusive, it is the declared intent of this Legislature to ensure that quality medical services continue to be available at reasonable costs to the citizens of the State of Alabama. The continuing and ever increasing threat of legal actions for alleged medical injury causes and contributes to an increase in health care costs and places a heavy burden on those who can least afford such increases. The threat of such actions contributes to the performance of expensive medical procedures by physicians and other health care providers which otherwise would not be considered necessary. The spiraling cost and decreasing availability of essential medical services caused by the threat of litigation constitutes a danger to the health and safety of the citizens of this state. This section and Sections 6-5-548 and 6-5-549 should be given effect immediately to help control the spiraling cost of health care and to insure its continuing availability. Additionally, the increasing threat of legal actions for alleged medical injury has resulted in a continuing limitation on the number of physicians providing specialized health care in this state. Because of the limited number of insurers offering professional liability coverage and because of the prejudice to the rights of defendant health care providers through the interjection of evidence of insurance, the interest of all citizens will best be served by prohibiting the introduction of evidence that a witness testifying at trial is insured by the same insurer as the defendant health care provider.
(c) For the purposes of this section and Sections 6-5-548 and 6-5-549, the terms used shall have the meanings respectively ascribed to them in Section 6-5-542. Notwithstanding the foregoing, for purposes of this section and Sections 6-5-548 and 6-5-549, the term "health care provider" shall include any licensed optometrist or licensed chiropractor and the term "professional corporation" shall include any optometric or chiropractic professional corporation or optometric or chiropractic, professional association; and, for purposes of this section and Sections 6-5-548(a) and 6-5-549, the term "health care provider" shall include any licensed podiatrist and the term "professional corporation" shall include any podiatric professional corporation or podiatric professional association. However, subsection (e) does not apply to licensed optometrists and optometric professional corporations or licensed chiropractors and chiropractic professional associations.
(d) This section and Sections 6-5-548 and 6-5-549 are intended to supplement "The Alabama Medical Liability Act," Act 513, 1975 Regular Session and "The Alabama Medical Liability Act of 1987," Act 87-189, 1987 Regular Session and the legislative intent stated therein.
(e) This section and Sections 6-5-548 and 6-5-549 apply to all actions pending against health care providers at the time of the effective date of the sections. Notwithstanding the foregoing, this section shall not apply to an action filed against a podiatrist prior to March 7, 2006.