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Malpractice limits under review

The U.S House of Representatives narrowly passed legislation earlier this year that will restrict non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits to $250,000. This bill, if enacted, would limit monetary awards for suffering, losing limbs, pain and loss of companionship.

The House approved this proposal as part of its American Health Care Act which is intended to replace the existing Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration supports this legislation.

Its impact could be severe. For example, a Pennsylvania jury awarded $620,000 to a plaintiff for pain and suffering in a medical professional negligence lawsuit against a surgeon who removed his healthy testicle and left the other painful and atrophied one alone. This bill would have cut his award by $370,000.

Supports of this proposal claim that it would discourage frivolous lawsuits and reduce costs because doctors would not perform defensive medical procedures to avoid negligence lawsuits. The Congressional Budget Office also estimated that the legislation would reduce costs by lowering liability insurance premiums and defensive medicine. In turn, this would lower costs in federal medical programs and insurance premiums and reduce the deficit by almost $50 billion over a decade.

However, research indicates that medical liability costs comprises only two to 2.5 percent of total spending on health care. Almost half of the states limit non-economic damage awards in these cases.

States could continue to enforce existing non-economic damage limits under the bill. However, the bill could still cap these awards even if a state constitution or their courts forbid this restriction.

Consumer advocates also object to other provisions of this bill. It would impose a three-year statute of limitations after an injury for filing a lawsuit or a one-year restriction from the time that a patient discovered or should have discovered the injury. Advocates claim that the bill, in practice, would always impose an overly-strict one-year time restriction. By capping contingency fees, there may also be fewer attorneys to bring these cases.

Passage in the Senate is uncertain. In addition to consumer groups, conservatives object to imposing federal standards in an area that was traditionally governed exclusively by the states.

Malpractice victims should seek experienced legal assistance for compensation for their losses. An attorney can help assure that they receive a just verdict or settlement under the law.

Source: Kaiser Health News, "House seeks to cap malpractice awards as part of health care update," By Michelle Andrews, June 27, 2017

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