Doctors make mistakes. A surgery goes awry or the wrong medicine is prescribed. The patient subsequently suffers the consequences, whether if it is increased pain and suffering or death. Then comes the medical malpractice lawsuit, and it is universally understood that the patient should be rightfully compensated.
It is no secret that our country is in a healthcare crisis, yet there is little consensus on exactly what needs to be done. A number of physician advocacy groups, including the American Medical Association, argue that the problem with the high cost health insurance of today lies with the millions of dollars patients may receive in recovery from medical malpractice suits.
In 2003, Texas passed a bill that limited punitive damages and recovery for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering. The North Carolina legislature is considering adopting a similar bill limiting in hopes of curbing insurance costs. Sure, Texas has seen a bit of a drop in liability rates, but limiting noneconomic damages is not the answer to our healthcare problems.
Why should the legislature decide damages? A patient’s pain and suffering from a physician’s mistake is not uniform. Neither is it as simple as an arbitrary cap of $250,000 in recovery as the legislature would have it.
Juries exist for a reason. They determine innocence or guilt and the appropriate recovery on a case by case basis. If North Carolina were to pass tort reform similar to Texas, it would essentially be taking a party’s right to a jury trial out from under their feet. For example, after hearing testimony of a victim’s truly awful pain and suffering from a physician’s mistake, a jury may award a deserved millions in recovery. Under the bill though, the judge would vacate that recovery for a mere $250,000.
So much for the right to a jury of peers.
The North Carolina legislature simply cannot determine a victim’s pain and suffering. Neither can it provide a safety net for those careless doctors that people are trusting with their lives. Just compensation is not a toy for the legislature to play with, not when it involves victims that have already faced pained and suffering. Limiting noneconomic damages is not the solution we are looking for to the healthcare crisis.