Prodded on by lobbyists for doctors and doctors' insurers, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000. This comes at a time when some states have declared caps on noneconomic damages to be unconstitutional altogether. Noneconomic damages include costs that are not directly related to medical treatment for an injury, and can include payments for pain and suffering and loss of companionship.
The measure now goes to the Senate, where passage will likely be more difficult (The measure passed in the house with a vote of 218-210). So far there have been no public hearings on the legislation.
A disadvantage for the most severely injured
Supporters of the measure believe that medical malpractice reform of this type will help to lower healthcare costs overall. But for plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases - particularly those who have been seriously hurt - a lower cap for noneconomic damages may mean a limited ability to recover to the fullest possible extent. Those arguing the unconstitutionality of caps on noneconomic damages point out that those caps tend to unfairly disadvantage those who are more seriously injured and may require the most care.
Moving too quickly?
The fate of the reform measure in the Senate still remains to be seen. While lobbyist involvement in legislation is an old tradition, what is different in this case is the speed at which the legislation moved through the House without public input or hearings.
Regardless of the fate of the reform bill, people who are injured by the medical system deserve their day in court, and should consult with a medical malpractice lawyer to learn their options.