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Congress Looks to Limit Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

congress building.jpgRepublican representative Steve King introduced a bill in Congress that would limit the available non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits to $250,000 per case. If the law passes, it would affect claims in every state, including in Illinois. The law would apply to all claims involving coverage provided by Medicare, Medicaid or subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. This means it would apply to most employer-provided insurance policies because employers receive subsidies for the coverage that they offer to their employees. Malpractice lawyers across the country believe that the bill would take away some rights of people who have been seriously injured by medical mistakes.

What Would the Bill Do?

The proposed bill provides that non-economic damages would be limited to $250,000, regardless of the number of defendants that are named in a lawsuit. Economic damages would not be limited for medical expenses. The cap would be on the amount of damages that people could recover for such things as their pain and suffering and other more intangible losses. Republicans claim that the bill would drive down medical costs and increase the ability to access healthcare.

Democrats are arguing that the bill would prevent people from fully recovering damages so that they could be made whole. The bill would apply even to the most egregious examples of medical malpractice, including cases in which the wrong body parts are operated on or those involving surgical instruments that are left inside of people's bodies. The damages caps would also apply to medical malpractice that occurs in nursing homes, potentially removing a strong incentive to provide better care to doctors and nurses who practice in them. 

The limits would also apply to some products liability claims involving defective drugs. Pharmacists who fill prescriptions and doctors who prescribe the drugs would not be able to be named as defendants in those lawsuits. 

The medical malpractice system has been a topic of fierce debate for years. It is difficult to determine exactly how much medical malpractice costs, but some studies have indicated that medical malpractice claims may make up between 2 and 2.5 percent of the total health care costs in the U.S. Doctors and medical industry lobbyists support the bill, claiming it would save taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Malpractice lawyers believe it could lead to a system under which the poor and elderly would be disproportionately unable to receive full restitution for their losses in medical malpractice cases.

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