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Damage Caps on Medical Malpractice: Why It’s Dangerous

In a continuing trend of naming bills misleadingly, the Protecting Access to Care Act (HR 1215) was passed in the Republican-majority Congress on June 28, 2017. This bill places a cap on the maximum amount a patient can sue for damages in a medical malpractice suit. HR 1215 is currently being considered by the Senate, so it has not yet gone into effect.

However, this is a bill Republicans favor. If the Senate goes the same way as Congress, those who are victims of severe negligence will only be able to sue for up to $250,000 in noneconomic damages, despite any additional care needed to deal with the repercussions.

Proponents of the bill argue it will save the health care industry thousands of dollars, making health care affordable for more people, but this assertion is dubious. Even if medical insurers do save millions of dollars, this is no guarantee they will lower their premiums to allow better health care for low-income individuals who can’t afford it. Likewise, this bill targets the victims of malpractice who have suffered the most. Those who require extensive amounts of health care, rehabilitation, and who can no longer work after their injuries will need much more than $250,000 to survive.

In one example, written about by F. Paul Bland Jr. in on The Hill website, Kathleen Astleford is one such victim. In 2018, she was diagnosed with cancer in the right tonsil. She was referred to a Dr. Turrisi, who incorrectly noted she had been diagnosed with cancer on the left side of her tonsil, rather than the right. He then recommended she undergo 35 radiation therapy treatments, after which she would be cancer free.

She began an aggressive series of radiation treatments thereafter; however, the doctor treated her left side, rather than the right where the cancer was located. At first, he told her everything was fine; later, he admitted he had performed 26 unnecessary radiation treatments on the wrong side of her tonsils. His solution was to carry out another 17 radiation treatments on the correct side, bringing her total treatments to 43. This amount of radiation would put her spinal cord and oral cavity at risk of severe harm.

Despite the risk, Turrisi never told his patient about the potential harm, telling her instead that the additional treatments could be completed “safely.” He also told her it would not be in her best interest to pursue “other options at this time.”

Ultimately, Astleford underwent an incredibly invasive surgery that required removing part of her tongue. She is now unable to swallow properly. Instead of receiving the proper treatment, she received 26 unnecessary radiation doses on the wrong side of her face and a painful and debilitating surgery to fix Turrisi’s horrific mistake.

Astleford has filed a suit against Delta Medix and Dr. Turrisi, but if HR 1215 passes, she would only be able to collect up to $250,000 for her pain and suffering. The trauma of enduring incorrect treatments and debilitating surgery is noneconomic, so according to the lawmakers behind the bill, they are irrelevant and should not be reimbursed.

Damage caps might not do anything for the cost of health insurance premiums, but they ­do and have allowed criminally negligent individuals to get away with egregious behavior. Dr. Turrisi is one of many doctors who, through arrogance or sheer ignorance, caused harm to the patient he was supposed to heal. Read more about her case in F. Paul Bland Jr.’s article here.

If you have a loved one who has been affected by severe medical negligence, call your senator as soon as possible. Make sure they understand the impact this bill would have on you and your loved one.

If you’re interested in pursuing a case against a negligent medical professional, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco is a law firm dedicated to helping the victims of negligence and carelessness recover compensation for their medical bills and lost wages. We have more than 80 years of collective legal experience to offer your case. Talk to one of our skilled Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys about your situation.

Contact us at (888) 899-0652 or fill out our online form to schedule your free case consultation today.

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