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Reforming Medical Malpractice Law

Personal Injury Lawyer

Despite the fact that medical malpractice lawsuits have seen a steady decrease in America over the past two decades, many activists and legislators continue to argue that the country needs medical malpractice reform. They cite the occasional multi-million-dollar jury awards to injured plaintiffs as evidence that runaway medical malpractice litigation not only increases overall healthcare costs for consumers, but also the premiums healthcare professionals must pay for their malpractice insurance.

Numerous proposals for medical malpractice reform have been made, including the following:

  • Capping the amount of noneconomic damages medical malpractice plaintiffs can receive
  • Capping the amount of punitive damages medical malpractice plaintiffs can receive
  • Capping the amount of attorneys’ fees medical malpractice lawyers can receive
  • Shortening statutes of liability to decrease the length of time during which allegedly injured patients can file medical malpractice lawsuits
  • Establishing health care tribunals to hear medical malpractice claims qualified by a medical review board as valid
  • Establishing national medical practice guidelines
  • Establishing “apology laws” whereby patients who receive apologies from their physicians who commit medical errors cannot use said apologies as evidence against them in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The two most popular reform proposals are the ones calling for placing caps on the damages plaintiffs can receive, as a medical malpractice lawyer, can explain.

Noneconomic Damages Caps

Noneconomic damages are those that are subjective in nature, such as the following:

  • The physical, mental and emotional pain, suffering and anguish plaintiffs suffer following an injury
  • The loss of mobility and adaptations they must make after losing a limb to amputation or becoming paralyzed or visually impaired
  • The loss of their ability to fully pursue the work and leisure activities they previously enjoyed
  • The embarrassment and humiliation they feel as the result of extensive scarring, especially that caused by severe burns
  • The overall loss of enjoyment of life they experience

Given that noneconomic damages can represent a significant portion of a medical malpractice award, many theorize that placing a cap on them will reduce settlements and jury awards, thereby reducing the overall cost of healthcare. A 2014 study, however, found that the $250,000 noneconomic damage caps enacted by several states reduced average settlements and awards by less than $60,000. For states with a $500,000 noneconomic damages cap, no savings were realized at all.

Punitive Damages Caps

Punitive damages are those that courts award over and above plaintiffs’ economic and noneconomic damages so as to punish defendants for especially egregious behavior and deter others in similar positions to the punished defendants from engaging in such actions. Again, many people theorize that limiting the amount of punitive damages medical malpractice plaintiffs can receive will reduce awards and therefore reduce healthcare costs.

However, only a negligible number of medical malpractice suits result in punitive damages. Some states, including Maryland, require the plaintiff to prove “actual malice” on the part of the defendant in order to receive them.

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