Lawmakers Debate Limits for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Medical malpractice lawsuits are every doctor’s worst nightmare. Now changes to federal law could make it much more difficult for patients to sue doctors for medical errors and negligence. The new legislation puts a cap on the amount of damages that doctors, hospitals, and elderly care homes can pay out. This includes caps for individuals covered through military health plans, government healthcare, and even COBRA.

Iowa Republic Representative Steve King introduced the new measure. He said the purpose was not to excuse doctors who make errors or to “throw blame out the window”. Instead, he believes the changes would shift focus to helping doctors learn from accidents to prevent them from occurring again in the future. Democrats argued that King’s comments were naïve in the realm of medical law. “We cast blame,” said Democrat Ted Deutch. “That’s how the justice system works.”

It’s no surprise that medical lobbyists were thrilled with the legislative changes. One advocacy group called the Health Coalition on Liability and Access said the changes brought a positive shift in the focus for America’s doctors. “Instead of being able to focus on their patients, more and more doctors are forced to defend their reputations and professional decisions in the courtroom against claims that turn out, in most cases, to be without merit,” a representative said.

Others were less thrilled with the changes including Representative John Conyers Jr. from Michigan. He expressed fears that the legislative changes would provide protection to pharmaceutical companies who might sell products that are dangerous or harmful.

The new law not only caps non-economic damages, but it also gives immunity to pharmaceutical companies if patients are harmed by prescriptions that have been approved by the FDA. Many fear this will essentially give Big Pharma a free pass with no accountability for its actions, no matter how harmful to patients. The law would also cap pay outs for pain and suffering at $250,000.

Those who argued most vehemently against the legislative changes said it was a violation of state rights. Representative Pramila Jayapal from Washington argued, “In Washington, our Supreme Court struck down caps as unconstitutional. We should be protecting patients.”  She said she believed the changes would effectively allow doctors to make irresponsible decisions in order to increase profits and remove any potential legal ramifications or accountability.

“Medical malpractice lawsuits have been a long and contentious topic among lawmakers for years,” said Tampa attorney Christopher Ligori. “Anytime there are changes to the current legislation, we will have protests and arguments. However, these recent changes are significant and should cause everyone to consider the long-term impact. Should doctors and drug companies be given this amount of power? Should patient’s rights to compensation ever really be capped?”

These are just a few of the questions that lawyers are asking about the changes. While the law seems to favor doctors and put patients at a disadvantage, some believe that it will all eventually balance out in an actual court of law.