Sunday, July 31, 2011

NC Lawmakers Override Governor’s Veto of Medical Liability Reform

The North Carolina House and Senate have voted to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a medical liability reform statute.  The statute imposes $500,000 limit on noneconomic damages which is subject to adjustments every three years, starting in 2014, based on the Consumer Price Index.  The statute also provides for exceptions to the cap if: (1) the plaintiff suffered disfigurement, loss of use of part of the body, permanent injury or death; and (2) the defendant’s acts or failures, which are the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, were committed in reckless disregard of the rights of others, grossly negligent, fraudulent, intentional or with malice.

Although I am not a big fan of tort reform statutes, I have to say this one is different than most.  The amount of the cap is higher and it includes exceptions that will benefit the victims with more severe injuries.  Both are good policies.  I do not know, however, if the exceptions are automatically applied to the types of cases listed or whether they are discretionary.  They should be automatic.  I can't imagine that tort reform supporters would have agreed to that, though, so I suspect that they are discretionary.  Making the exceptions discretionary is bad policy and it just opens the door to more litigation as the parties would have to get into a fight over whether the case is worthy of consideration for the exceptions.  Again, however, I don't know for sure what the language of the statute is so I am simply considering the possible scenarios here.

A report in the North Carolina News Network cites Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis as saying that the bill will make health care more accessible and affordable.  I am willing to bet it will do neither since it has been proven time after time that tort litigation costs contribute very little to health care costs....  but that is a different issue.

What it will do - probably - is reduce the amount of med mal litigation or reduce the amount of damages paid in med mal litigation, which is what it is intended to do, of course.  But, whether that is a good thing in itself is another question and the answer depends on whether the measure results in preventing injured patients with valid claims from bringing their claims or from getting fair compensation for their injuries.  

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