In recent blogs, we have discussed how corporations, lobbyists, and politicians push for legislative changes that restructure our civil justice system in a manner that benefits themselves – even when it comes at the expense of everyday Americans and victims of negligence. Prime examples of these changes relate to tort reform, which have succeeded in state legislatures across the country passing unfair laws that limit the amount of compensation victims are able to recover after being harmed by negligent health care providers.
Today, more states than not impose some type of damages cap on medical malpractice cases. Most of these states limit non-economic damages – which are the types of intangible losses victims and families suffer after preventable injuries, such as mental anguish, loss of quality or enjoyment of life, and their pain and suffering. Some even limit total damages that can be recovered, including economic damages. Should one particular bill making its way through Congress be passed (the “Protecting Access to Care Act”), these caps could be placed on medical malpractice and nursing home injury cases nationwide.
The unfortunate truth is that money is continually flooding into American politics – and that money can be traced back to lobbyists and corporations that have financial interests in limiting how much they pay to the victims they harm, or the victims harmed by their insurance policy holders. The powerful combination of money and rhetoric have succeeded in getting tort reform initiatives and damages caps to pass in many states, but advocacy efforts are beginning to strengthen, raise awareness, and prompt much needed change.
Fighting Back Against Profits Over People
While the prioritization of profits over people driving tort reform sometimes succeeds, there is reassurance knowing Americans are fighting back. More good news comes from recent developments and court decisions directly targeting laws that unfairly limit the rights of victims. For example:
- New York passed a bipartisan measure at the end of last month to better protect the rights of medical malpractice victims and their families, particularly those who suffered harm or died as a result of cancer misdiagnoses. Under that bill, victims and families know have two and a half years to file a lawsuit after learning of the missed diagnosis, rather than the current 15 month statute of limitations that begins when the misdiagnosis occurred.
- In January, a North Dakota District Judge denied a motion from a hospital to reduce the jury’s verdict in a case involving surgical errors that led to a victim suffering a serious stroke, and declared the state’s statutory cap limiting non-economic damages in medical negligence cases to $500,000 unconstitutional.
- In June of 2017, the Florida Supreme Court ruled to strike down a policy adopted under Governor Jeb Bush that placed a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Presiding Justices in the case noted that those caps not only failed to reduce insurance rates as proponents had initially claimed they would, but also that the limitations were arbitrary, unfair, and impacted only victims who suffer the most severe and life-altering consequences – including death, permanent injuries, physical impairment, and tremendous pain and suffering.
- In the wake of the Florida decision, the First District Court of Appeals in Wisconsin ruled the state’s law capping non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases unconstitutional. The court also cited that while victims who suffer less severe injuries nearly always recover their full amount of damages, the limit caps damages only for the most severely and profoundly injured.
These types of laws and decisions are major victories for advocates, and for all Americans. No victim or family – especially those who suffer the most – should be denied the compensation they deserve (awarded by judges or juries of their peers) simply because corporate powers have meddled enough with our politics to create a system that works in their favor. Such decisions are an indication that times may soon be changing in terms of tort reform and victims’ rights – and those are victories to celebrate and build upon.
As a law firm that has built its reputation on fighting of injured victims and families, including those harmed by medical malpractice, Shrager, Spivey & Sachs supports these types of decisions and advocacy efforts, and always offers our support to those who need to fight for what they deserve after being harmed in Pennsylvania. We encourage you to learn more about these civil justice issues (you can visit www.takejusticeback.com to learn more), and to contact our legal team if you have a potential case you wish to discuss.