President Trump’s proposed budget includes a $250,000 limit on the amount juries can award for the pain suffered by plaintiffs due to medical malpractice. In addition, the “Protecting Access to Healthcare Act of 2017,” H.R. 1215, which has been filed in Congress, would also institute a similar $250,000 cap if enacted.
At trial, a patient alleging medical malpractice must convince a jury that her physician failed to provide the level of care that a reasonably competent and skilled health care professional would have provided under the circumstances, and that she was harmed as a result. Invariably, these are complex matters premised upon expert testimony and medical evidence. Although it may be difficult to assign a value to an injured patient’s pain and suffering, impartial jurors who actually hear all the evidence in a case are best positioned to determine the amount of those damages. The caps proposed by the President and the bill filed in Congress would assign an arbitrary maximum value to pain and suffering without regard for the facts of each case.
The President’s budget, while acknowledging that “injured patients often do not receive just compensation for their injuries,” eviscerates a jury’s ability to provide just compensation, and amounts to a breach of the constitutionally protected right to a fair jury trial provided by the Seventh Amendment. The proposed cap would unfairly and arbitrarily restrict the amount of damages that can be awarded to victims of medical malpractice, as opposed to the damages suffered by victims of other tortious conduct, such as car crashes and defectively manufactured products.
There is no evidence that caps on damages in medical malpractice cases would ensure that doctors will pay less for insurance or that patients will pay less for treatment. In fact, it has been shown in states that have implemented “tort reform” measures that insurance premiums have actually increased. Instead, these caps would remove incentives to improve patient care, leaving people at greater risk for injury. According to a recent Johns Hopkins study, medical errors may be the thirdleading cause of death in the U.S. We need more assurances of responsibility, not fewer.
Some state constitutions expressly forbid damage caps. Other states’ courts have interpreted their constitutions to prohibit such caps and some state legislatures have rejected damage caps altogether. Both the President’s proposed budget and H.R. 1215 would preempt those states’ constitutions and overrule those state legislatures’ decisions, which tailor tort law to the needs of their local constituencies – a serious infringement of states’ rights.
SUGARMAN principal Marianne LeBlanc represents clients injured by medical negligence. If you believe you may have been injured due to such an error, fill out a Contact Form, call Marianne LeBlanc at 617-542-1000, or e-mail Marianne LeBlanc.