Tort reform and damage caps have been proposed or enacted by several state legislatures throughout the country, including Missouri, Texas, Virginia, and Tennessee. Currently, nearly 30 states limit the amount of damages that can be received in a medical malpractice lawsuit, according to the American Medical Association. States with damage caps vary wildly in their limitations and the types of damages that are limited. For instance, California limits non-compensatory damages at $250,000, while Nebraska limits total damages at $1.75 million.
The constitutionality of damage caps and various other tort reform provisions are the subject of much debate. In March, a federal judge in Texas upheld the Texas cap on non-economic “pain and suffering” damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Pursuant to Texas’ Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003, noneconomic damages are capped at $250,000 if the defendant is a physician or hospital. If a separate unrelated hospital or health care institution is named as a second defendant in the case, the plaintiff may be entitled to an extra $250,000.
Conversely, the Missouri Supreme Court recently struck down a $350,000 cap on jury awards for “pain and suffering” in medical malpractice cases, finding the law to be a violation of a patient’s right to a jury trial. According to this article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the court said the cap “infringes on the jury’s constitutionally protected purpose of determining the amount of damages sustained by an injured party,” in cases involving medical errors.
The article goes on to say that patient advocates believe that the damage caps will have little impact on reducing health care costs. Patient advocates also argue that the Missouri damage cap targeted children, the elderly, and disabled persons since such plaintiff’s tend to be awarded damages for pain and suffering but not for lost wages or future earnings. In fact, this case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Deborah Watts, whose son was born with catastrophic brain injuries in 2006 after enduring a delay in receiving an emergency C-section.
Although tort reform advocates assert that the fear of medical malpractice lawsuits costs the health care industry billions of dollars every year, a new study conducted by a group of professors at prestigious law schools reveals that tort reform is ineffective at reducing health care spending. Tort reform initiatives seek to limit plaintiff’s access to the court system, restrict the types of claims that can be asserted, and cap the damages to which you may recover in a lawsuit.
At Ankin Law Offices, LLC our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys are committed to protecting the rights of victims of medical malpractice and their families. Tort reform and damage caps undoubtedly hurt patients and the general public by failing to hold doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals financially responsible for their injuries or deaths that they have caused. If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, do not hesitate to contact our office at (312) 600-0000 to schedule a free consultation.