Senate to consider damage caps in medical malpractice cases

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Apr 14, 2012 in Medical Malpractice

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that seeks to impose restrictions on medical malpractice awards and limit the ability of patients and surviving family members to recover fair compensation for damages resulting from health care provider negligence. The good news is that the bill still has to be passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama before it can become the law of the land.

Even though West Virginia is one of the roughly 30 states to have already enacted its own damage caps for medical malpractice lawsuit s, the new measure would further limit the amount of compensation plaintiffs here could recover. Currently, state law limits medical malpractice awards for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering to a maximum of $500,000 for the most serious of injuries.

The measure now before the Senate, if passed and not vetoed by the President, would reduce that amount to $250,000 in all cases. The bill would also place restrictions on when punitive damage awards could be sought and limit those awards to a maximum of two times the amount of a plaintiff's economic damages or $250,000, whichever is less.

Is this enough compensation for a person who will experience significant pain every day for the rest of their lives because of doctor's mistake? Should someone who can no longer move or see be limited to recovering only $250,000 for having those freedoms taken away by the negligence of a health care provider?

Even if you believe that medical malpractice reforms are needed, there are better ways to achieve that goal than imposing a single ceiling on damage awards for all cases. In fact, it can be argued that damage caps in medical malpractice cases reward carelessness and do nothing to improve the quality of our health care system because they artificially shield providers from the real consequences of their actions.

Source: The New York Times, "Double Dose of Harm," Apr. 10, 2012

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