A state court judge in North Dakota recently ruled that capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases is unconstitutional.
Many states around the U.S. have enacted such “tort reform” measures, only to have them struck down. Such laws are not just unconstitutional – they don’t work. They have not had the intended effect of lowering patients’ costs or doctors’ malpractice premiums. In fact, there is little evidence of a medical malpractice “crisis” in the first place.
Capping non-economic damages is arbitrary
A cap on medical malpractice damages is unfair in two ways. (1) It allows patients with less severe injuries to recover full compensation but denies justice to those who have suffered the most catastrophic harm. (2) It singles out victims of medical negligence; there is no such limit on other lawsuits such as car accidents or slip-and-falls.
Why caps on medical malpractice awards?
Many states enacted caps on damages in medical malpractice cases to push back against “runaway juries” awarding massive verdicts in “frivolous lawsuits.” The medical lobby argued that physicians were leaving the profession because malpractice premiums were too high. They also argued that exorbitant malpractice awards cause doctors to practice defensive medicine, driving up the cost of health care.
But the facts don’t match the supposed crisis. The number of medical malpractice lawsuits has decreased over the last 20 years. Average awards are not climbing. There has been no mass exodus of physicians over unaffordable insurance, and states with caps on damages have not seen a decrease in malpractice premiums. In states that enacted caps, doctors still practice defensive medicine, with no savings to consumers.
Connecticut does not limit medical malpractice lawsuits, but every few years someone tries to resurrect the tort reform debate.
At Kennedy, Johnson, Schwab & Roberge, L.L.C., we handle all cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that we do not get paid unless and until you receive a settlement or a jury award.
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