The United States Senate is currently considering a bill whose sole purpose is to limit medical malpractice victims’ rights. That bill, SB 197, would have the federal government dictate how medical malpractice cases in state courts are run. More importantly, SB 197 also would limit a medical malpractice victim’s noneconomic damages (e.g., physical or mental pain and suffering) to $250,000.00 from a negligent provider, with a maximum limit of $500,000.00, if there mare multiple defendants. For example, if, in one case, a medical malpractice victim sues one physician, his or her damages for pain and suffering would be limited to $250,000.00. If, on the other hand, a victim sues two physicians and a hospital for a medical mistake, that person could only recover $500,000.00 for his or her noneconomic damages. SB 197 would also require courts to sanction attorneys fighting for victims’ rights for filing “frivolous” lawsuits. (The bill, however, does not even define the word frivolous!) Additionally, SB 197 would make recovering punitive damages against negligent healthcare providers nearly impossible, and would limit injured victims right to seek damages arising from a defective drug or medical device.
The bill’s entire texts appears here: http://e-lobbyist.com/gaits/US/SB197
In an October 28, 2011 Washington Post editorial, Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, stated this overreaching legislation “takes an approach that implies ‘Washington knows best’ while trampling states’ authority and the 10th Amendment,” and ”expands federal power, tramples the states and violates the Constitution.” (For those who are unfamiliar with Attorney General Cuccinelli, he is a staunch Republican, and is considered to an “up-and-comer” on the national political stage.) Cuccinelli rightly stated that “it is the right of the residents of each state to decide which system works best for them, rather than having a one-size-fits-all plan imposed unconstitutionally by the federal government.”
Attorney General Cuccinelli’s entire editorial may be read here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/keeping-the-feds-at-bay/2011/10/28/gIQAFJfUQM_story.html
I applaud Attorney General Cuccinelli’s guts in standing up to anti-justice advocates, including insurance companies, hospitals and healthcare systems, and various lobbying groups. Unfortunately, however, Attorney General Cuccinelli’s op-ed misses an important point. Tort reform and capping damages in medical malpractice cases would actually hurt patients, and would not promote patient safety. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a conservative come right out and say that the American system of trial by jury, and the right to seek compensation for harm and damage caused by others’ negligence, is not fundamentally flawed. Our adjudicative legal system, which makes physicians, nurses, and hospitals responsible for their actions, is one way to ensure that patients receive the quality healthcare they deserve.