Proposed Caps on Malpractice Liability Could Have a Major Impact on Severely Injured Individuals

Medical errors happen every day. When most people hear about mistakes being made in hospitals that lead to severe brain damage or permanent injury, they think that it is the exception to the rule and certainly could never happen to their family. Unfortunately, for one family a simple medication error led to a permanent injury requiring long-term treatment.

In 2007, a premature baby was administered 100 times the dose she should have received when she was given necessary nutrients shortly after birth. This dosage mistake had severe complications, which resulted in permanent blindness and cerebral palsy.

Today, not quite four years old, she remains in a wheelchair. She cannot walk, feed herself or even go to the bathroom on her own. The same will be true for her in 10 years, when she’s 13, and in 20 years, when she’s 23. Lifelong full-time care is necessary for her to survive – all because of a dosage error.

The family sued the hospital for negligence, and was recently awarded $19.2 million as a result of themedical mistake. Part of the award was for economic damages (i.e., medical bills), and part was awarded non-economic damages (i.e., pain and suffering). The expectation is that the $19.2 million will help cover the ongoing expenses for her lifelong care. But if proposed federal legislation goes through, her attorney believes that the award could be capped at as little as $200,000.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill that would set a $250,000 limit on non-economic damages, which means that the amount awarded for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases would be substantially reduced, especially in the case of this three-and-a-half-year-old girl. The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Health (HEALTH) Act, also known as H.R. 5, would not only limit non-economic damages in cases against medical professionals, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, but would also set strict statutes of limitations for filing medical malpractice suits.

Some argue that by limiting non-economic damages, the bill will simply bring a much needed tort reform. Injured individuals will still be able to receive economic damages, which typically cover medical expenses and loss of future earnings. But others argue, especially in cases involving small children or elderly individuals, it is difficult to quantify economic damages since loss of future earnings are not easily measurable in these situations.

The federal bill still has a long way to go before it becomes a law since neither the House nor Senate have approved it yet. Some states have already imposed their own medical malpractice caps. Illinois previously tried to do so, but the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s limits, holding the law was unconstitutional under the Illinois State Constitution.

Sources: Lee family awarded $19.2M in malpractice suit; Malpractice Reform Moves Forward on Capitol Hill


Medical Malpractice Reform

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