Constitutionality of Medical Malpractice Damage Caps
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What are Medical Malpractice Damage Caps?
Medical malpractice damage caps are statutory limits on the amount of money that a patient can collect from a medical malpractice lawsuit.
For example: In 2007, former Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ron Springs went to the hospital to get a tiny arm cyst removed and—due to medical malpractice—ended up in a coma. He passed away in 2011. His wife filed suit for medical malpractice shortly thereafter. Due to the Texas medical malpractice cap, Ron’s lawyers could only collect $250,000 for pain and suffering. This cap was enacted by the Texas Legislature after the success of California’s similar cap, called MICRA.
Some argue that the aim of these caps is to protect the profits of medical companies, while others argue that the caps will keep physicians healing without worrying about potentially huge liability.
What is Controversial About Medical Malpractice Damage Caps?
Patients who are severely injured by a doctor’s malpractice are often crippled for life. Opponents of malpractice caps argue that setting limits on damage awards places the burden of the malpractice on the patient, while incompetent doctors are not punished to the full extent of the law.
However, there have been some recent court decisions, such as the one in Georgia, that have overruled the caps, holding them to be unconstitutional. The basic reasoning is that most state constitutions guarantee the right to a trial by jury. At least in theory, the government is supposed to make the law, and the jury is supposed to analyze the facts to see if the law has been broken. Then, based on "how much" the law was broken, the jury is given the freedom to award the amount of money that they think is fair.
Finally, medical malpractice caps are often challenged as a violation of separation of powers. Separation of powers refers to the division between the three branches of government. For instance, in Illinois, the ability to lower damage awards given by a jury is a power held only by the courts. If the legislature limits damage awards, then lawmakers would be exercising a power normally used by judges.
The judge can always reduce the jury’s verdict, because she or he may have superior legal knowledge. Some states, such as Florida, grant the judge the discretion to ignore the caps when injustice would otherwise occur.
Which States Do Not Have Medical Malpractice Caps?
As of 2013, the following states do not have medical malpractice caps:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New York
- Rhode Island
Do You Need an Attorney Experienced with Medical Malpractice?
If you or a loved one has been injured by medical malpractice, you should speak to a personal injury attorney immediately to learn more about the value of your case and what types of recoveries are available to you.
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Last Modified: 03-18-2014 11:35 AM PDT
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