The Conflict Concerning Caps

Not long after North Carolina legislators instituted a cap on non-economic damages (e.g., pain and suffering) in medical malpractice cases in October 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a completely opposite ruling on the same issue in August 2012. The Missouri court overturned a cap on non-economic damages that had stood for 20 years in that state, saying that the rule violated the Constitutional right to trial by jury.

The two actions illustrate the ongoing battle over caps on personal injury damages that has been raging in states throughout the country for years, and will probably continue to do so until a definitive case makes it to the United States Supreme Court. In the meantime, the controversy will continue.

Medical professionals, health care companies, and insurance companies argue in favor of the caps, claiming that limits on such damages:

  • Discourage frivolous and costly lawsuits
  • Keep insurance premiums down
  • Free the medical community to practice with more vigor and innovation without fear of unreasonable financial consequences

Patient advocates, on the other hand, assert that the caps:

  • Unfairly punish those who suffer the most severe injuries by limiting their ability to achieve fair and full compensation
  • Violate the constitutional separation of powers and right to due process
  • Promote lower quality in health care by giving providers less to lose for substandard performance.

One area that is less affected by the caps is medical malpractice claims resulting from birth injuries. That is because, while most medical malpractice claims involve reimbursement of medical expenses incurred due to treatment of injuries, in the case of birth injuries the monetary damages awarded generally include large amounts earmarked for future medical needs of the injured child.

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