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Soon to come: a cap on medical malpractice awards?

We quite literally trust doctors with our lives. However, doctors are still humans, and therefore, are liable to commit errors that could have disastrous consequences. If a doctor commits a grave error—say, mistakenly removing a healthy organ instead of the one marked for removal—should patients not have the right to recover monetary damages that compensate them for the loss, and the difficulty that will come moving forward?

Most agree that such damages are in order when a doctor or other medical professional acts erroneously. However, a bill before the House of Representatives is seeking to put a cap on those damages at $250,000, according to a recent article in NPR.

Costly mistakes

The NPR story begins with the account of a male patient in Pennsylvania who was awarded $620,000 for pain and suffering after a surgeon mistakenly removed the wrong testicle, leaving the painful one intact in the patient’s body.

However, if bill H.R. 1215 passes, the Pennsylvania man’s damages would’ve been capped at a quarter of a million dollars, which he asserts would not be enough to cover the loss going forward.

The bill is part of a package of reforms drafted to supplement the American Health Care Act, or AHCA, the “ObamaCare” replacement currently at the center of national discourse.

Those who support this bill say it would lead to a reduction in frivolous and costly medical malpractice suits. However, opponents claim that costs from medical liability lawsuits make up just between 2% and 2.5% of the total health care spending.

“Non-economic damage awards”

The house bill aims to put the $250,000 cap on non-economic damage awards. Typically, these are damages awarded for things that are more difficult to place a dollar amount on: pain and suffering, emotional anguish and overall worsening in the quality of life. They are separate from the monetary damages that may be awarded to cover medical costs and other tangible expenses, as well as punitive damages that are meant to deter reckless behavior. 

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