Trial lawyers upset with proposed med-mal reform

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 27, 2011, 2:21pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A national trial lawyers group is railing against what they're calling an "extreme" medical malpractice reform bill that was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday.

American Association for Justice President Gibson Vance, in a statement Tuesday, took digs at the GOP-controlled House, which also voted last week to repeal President Barack Obama's health care reform act, 245-189.

"After repealing a bill that provided health insurance to over 30 million Americans, the next proposal from the new House leadership is to take away the legal rights of injured patients, remove any incentive to improve safety, and leave people at risk for more injuries from negligent care. This is the most perverse form of legislating imaginable," he said.

"This bill will impose severe, one-size-fits-all caps on damages that injured patients can seek -- not just when injured by medical negligence, but also by defective drugs, medical devices, or abuse suffered in nursing homes. It even extends this cap to health care providers that intentionally harm or kill patients, as well as insurance companies that refuse to pay just claims for medical bills."

Vance said the bill is "beyond extreme."

Obama, in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, said he would look at medical malpractice reform to rein in the growing number of frivolous lawsuits.

He said further reductions in health care costs are needed, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The two, he said, are the biggest contributors to the nation's long-term deficit.

"The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit," he said.

The Senate, controlled by Democrats, most likely will block the repeal measure. Even if it were to pass, Obama has said he would veto it.

Still, the President said he is "willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year -- medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits."

On Wednesday, the president of the Civil Justice Association of California came out in support of Obama's consideration of a nationwide reform as a way to bring down health care costs.

Kimberly Stone said that the CJAC "commends" the President for supporting the concept.

"California's doctors, medical providers, and legal reform advocates are willing and eager to work with Congress and the Administration to bring reforms that have worked successfully for many years in California to the rest of the nation," she said.

"At a time when trial lawyers are working hard to weaken or repeal California's landmark Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), we are encouraged that the President last night said he was 'willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one... suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.' MICRA has done just that in California."

MICRA allows for unlimited economic damages for past and future medical costs, lost wages and punitive damages in medical malpractice cases -- and also provides up to $250,000 for speculative, non-economic damages, while limiting attorneys' fees so that more money goes to the patient.

The law has helped stabilize medical malpractice insurance costs, CJAC says, preserving patient access to thousands of physicians, nurses, hospitals, clinics, dentists and other healthcare providers.

In fact, just increasing the amount of non-economic damages allowed under MICRA from $250,000 to $500,000 would raise health care costs in California by at least $9.5 billion annually, according to a 2008 report by California's former nonpartisan legislative analyst. That translates into $1,032 annually for a family of four.

The CJAC is a non-profit, membership-supported coalition of citizens, taxpayers, businesses, local governments, professionals, manufacturers, financial institutions, insurers and medical organizations. Founded in 1979, it is the only statewide association dedicated solely to improving California's civil liability system.

Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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