October 11th, 2009
03:07 PM ET
13 years ago

Casey: $250K cap on malpractice damages 'insulting'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/11/art.caseysotu1011.cnn.jpg caption="Sen. Casey said Sunday that an aspect of medical malpractice reform favored by many congressional Republicans was 'insulting' and wouldn't be 'justice as we have come to understand it.'"]
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A moderate Pennsylvania Democrat came out strongly Sunday against the possibility of imposing a cap on medical malpractice damages as part of comprehensive health care reform legislation currently under consideration in Congress.

“I don’t think the way to go is to limit the rights of Americans who are injured by negligent or intentional conduct,” Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey who is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

“A $250,000 cap on damages, in my humble opinion, is insulting to our system of justice,” Casey also told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “That is not justice as we have come to understand it.”

In an interview that aired earlier on State of the Union, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain suggested that medical malpractice reform was one area where the GOP should begin to crystallize its own positive health care reform agenda now that Congress is about to begin to process of melding together several health care bills in both chambers.

But, pointing to the experience of her state, Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow suggested that the Republican approach to malpractice reform was too simplistic.

“There’s a different way to come at it,” Stabenow told King, “The Republicans have a very traditional approach over and over again – whether or not [malpractice reform] has worked.” Stabenow said damages caps imposed in Michigan had not stemmed increases in the malpractice insurance rates paid by doctors.

Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budge Office issued a cost estimate of the health care reform bill drafted by the Senate Finance Committee which concluded that inclusion of tort reform in the legislation would save $54 billion.

soundoff (225 Responses)
  1. jpayne

    It PAINS me to read the comments on this message board. Of course you need to cap medical jury awards. I especially love the comment that doing this will nt bring down medical insurance.

    It is very obviously that the Dens are in the pocket of the trial attorneys.

    Sure, lets continue giving out multi-million dollar awards becusce a doctor messed up on a thumb nail or someone dropped a cup of hot coffee on themselves.

    Tort reform? No lets keep doing it the same way. Dumb dumb dumb

    October 11, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  2. Economist

    There appears to be an inconsistency among conservatives concerning tort. Suppose that the intention is to only cap punitive damages at $250k, although this is not clear from this post. Now, conservatives generally favor being "tough on crime" as a deterrent. The tougher the punishment, the lower the crime rate, they say. In this case, they should also favor unlimited punitive damages: this will surely reduce the amount of malpractice. The only flaw in my logic is that reducing malpractice is not the conservative goal.

    October 11, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  3. Hans Poppe

    Pat F, your statement is inaccurate. Indiana most certainly does impose a cap on economic damages. The maximum recoverable in a malpractice action in Indiana is $1.25 million....and it has not led to a significant reduction in physician premiums.

    October 11, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. tiff of lithia springs

    I think 1.5 million is a far better cap that 250K. But a sliding scale to certain issues. Ar best have a group that can study these lines of concern and see WHAT would be a fair compensation package to ensure a decent quality of life of someone who has been injured by medical wrecklessness.

    October 11, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  5. clark

    Caps are crap to an extent. You definitely need commesurate punishment. I say that when you consider a surgeon saves at least 25 lives a year for the money they make, suits should be limited to (and paid on a plan commesurate to their savings and future career length) 3 or maybe 5 years of their salary with punitive considerations included this would be a MAXIMUM, as in the doctor got mad and intentionally neglected a patient resulting in damage or some such case. Another good example is when Doctors let their religious beliefs negatively effect treatment. This actually happens! 5 years salary on a payment plan will be enough to punish while not slamming their ability to pay the bills. And obviously, should only be taken to the maximum when Doctors have commited an intentional, or blatant mistaken process error, resulting in a high level of harm or death.

    I mean, MLB players get penalized for errors and they 99% of the time dont hurt anyone. Why shouldn't doctors be sued for errors that kill or maim permanently. Good surgeons won't care about this because it will only hurt the ability of the charlatans that pose as top doctors to compete in their same market.


    October 11, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  6. CC santa fe

    As a practicing physician, tort reform is essential. Almost all physicians I know are worried about being sued for poor outcome that did not involve any mal practice. Even if we did nothing wrong, we still pay large amounts to litigate and malpractice insurance companies just settle. This means that we paid even if we did nothing wrong. I guarantee several things will happen when physicans are paid significantly less for time and expense of becoming a highly trained MD with out tort reform(4 yrs of pre med, 4 yrs med totalling close to $ 300,000 of debt plus – 4 yrs training, 3 – 4 yrs subspecialty training – all at close to minimum wage)
    1. Less physicians
    2. Less qualified physicians
    3. More Mid level providers – no disrespect but there is a difference
    4. More physicians leaving the craft or the country.

    October 11, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  7. Dave - Independent

    Anyone who thinks our medical professionals will purposely kill or harm their patients due to tort reform needs to seek some psychiatric help. These scum sucking trial lawyers need to be put in check. They have been making millions of dollars by taking advantage of a system with no sensible regulation. $250,000 may be a bit low, but it's a great starting point to negotiate from.

    October 11, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  8. jp,michigan

    TORT reform is necessary. Doctors pay more than half of their incomes for malpractice insurance and have to practice defensive medicine to protect themselves. Medicine is not an exact science.

    October 11, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. FRANK, Las Vegas

    Just another example of how the GOP is bought and paid for by the insurance industry. The insurance companies want to limit their exposure to $250k but they do not reduce their rates to the doctors (as tried in some states). The GOP will fight for the poor insurance companies until the money runs out. They don't care about the American people, just the money. So much for their other lie, Country First.

    October 11, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  10. terry

    The monetary award should be handed out by the judge based on the loss of earnings of the person affected. Not by a bunch of idiots on a jury that is supposed to be "your peers". Like it or not 50% of the people that sit on a jury are dumber than a brick.

    October 11, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  11. Larry

    Insulting, to say the least. But I bet the insurance companies are wild about the idea.

    October 11, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  12. Karl in Charleston,SC

    Just how many in the House and Senate are Lawyers?

    October 11, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  13. MLH

    There can be several types of damages sought in medical malpractice cases. Are they talking about the type of damages that seek to pay for the victim's care for the rest of their life, the type of damages that make up for the victim's loss of earning potential, punitive damages? Is it even constitutional for the federal government to cap a particular type of damage sought in a state court?

    Additionally, the idea that capping malpractice awards will reduce malpractice insurance rates ignores the fact that insurance companies are in it to make money. The only thing that is sure about capping malpractice awards is that it caps the loss that could be incurred by the insurance company, not the cost to the buyer of insurance.

    October 11, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  14. GP

    Capping malpractice is paramount to ending consumer rights in the medical field.

    Frivolous lawsuits are a problem indeed. An effective countermeasure would be to hold lawyers accountable for filing frivolous lawsuits. A board of peers would determine if a lawsuit was indeed frivolous and after a set number of frivolous filings the lawyer would be penalized in some fashion.

    Limiting or removing consumers rights is beyond draconian.

    October 11, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  15. They call me "tater salad"

    $250k Is small potato's to the Health Insurance Empire, (oops, I meant Industry) that rakes in BILLIONS in profits! Just more PROOF that the party of Greedy Old Parasites think that the American people are nothing more than mindless sheep just wandering around bumping into inanimate objects all day long! You can't possibly get me to believe that there are people actually dumb enough not to see this! Give me a break!!!!!!!!

    October 11, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  16. Jeff

    Medical expenses are not covered under any cap. $250k is for pain and suffering. If you seem to believe that doctors are infallable and make no mistakes, you seem to be holding them to an impossible standard (and is the reason why malpractice insurance is so high in the first place, when people sue even if it's not the doctor's fault)

    Don't get me wrong, if a physician makes a stupid mistake, then they should learn from it, but let's not believe that every bad outcome is because a doctor screwed up.

    October 11, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  17. Erin

    It's about time someone had the nerve to stand up to the trial lawyers who have been sucking the blood out of America for decades. It's too bad we have so many congressmen and senators who are lawyers themselves or else we might get real tort reform. Talk about wolves guarding the henhouse.

    October 11, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  18. Zach

    As a practicing physician, I have to agree with Merit on one point: doctors ARE horrible at policing their own. However, as a military physician, I cannot be sued (in the conventional sense) and I take exception to the accusation that I practice recklessly as a result. I did not become a doctor to become rich, neither have most of my colleagues; for the best and brightest amongst us, we could have made far more money with much less responsibility and MANY fewer sacrifices/years of training in another field. We do it because we felt a calling to help others, as cliche as that sounds. This is not to say that I do not deserve to be fairly compensated for my work, just as other professionals should be.

    What I object to is the "lottery" mentality that many take when they enter into a lawsuit expecting millions of dollars in pain and suffering for something that may or may not have been the physician's responsibility. In this, I do not blame the lawyers, they are only doing their job when they accept a case. I blame the judges. These ridiculous lawsuits need to be thrown out of court before they waste one second of the legal system's time. If this were to happen, lawyers would stop attempting to throw crap at the wall waiting to see if something sticks. Do I expect to completely escape liability? Absolutely not. But we need to understand that: 1) sometimes bad things happen and no one is particularly to blame, 2) one bad outcome does not entitle someone to a free ride for the rest of his life. Physicians are not the only ones who need to take responsibility, and America as a whole should not pay for those citizens who do not accept their share of responsibility.

    October 11, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  19. Spb

    Tort reform?yes, to some degree, such as someone being awarded a couple of mil for not having enough brains to know that coffee is hot and if you try to dirve and drink it you take the chance of getting burned. Avoidable medical errors that result in the patient being left with a disblility that did not exist before? That is a whole other issue. Does anyone else find it ironic tht this idea comes from the Republicans? The party of :pull yourself up by your boot straps personal responsibility"? Where is the responsibility of those who make the errors? The reform in the system needs to be with the companies who insure the dcotors, or more specifically with the doctors themselves. There are many ways this can be accomplished, such as lower malprctice premiums for doctors who pass periodic competancy exams and take on going training. It should not be at the expense of those Americans who's lives have been ruined by the mistakes of a disrtracted or incompetant health care professional.

    October 11, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  20. mh

    It would be very interesting to know how much the Trial Lawyers Association paid Casey. The world will never know.

    October 11, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  21. Dr.Vishwa RP Sinha

    A cap is essential for integrated approach to cut down the avoidable cost of health care . It needs careful monitoring that Insurance Companies should not take advantage of such cap. But it should help the physicians so that their fee becomes low. It should be clearly understood that no physician or nurse does any mistake deliberately ,everyone sincerely does the job ,it is just a human error. Human errors are invariably cause the air accident and what the relatives of dead get mere 250K. Therefore , one should not view it is an insult because one republication has said so. Please rise above the party line and do the best to reform the health care. It is indeed insulting for the country ,which is predominantly the top number one but where 45000 die every year because of no insurance. That is really an insult to be country. The cap is essential and the amount is not insulting . It takes courage to put a NUMER. Being a great admirer of democratic party and above all of the President ,I suggest to all ,please do not get bogged down in unrealistic figure and to support reasonable or realistic suggestion for the reform above the party line. We claim of being highly courteous but watching the whole discussion on heath care which is full of "asking for apology " and "sorry 'I feel sorry to see the digression and nothing else except that in the name of capitalism the great business of health insurance is flourishing to the benefit of attorneys and health care industries. Please stop this and help those who are in need of heath care .

    October 11, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  22. Marilyn

    Not only should malpractice damages be capped, but all medical costs should be capped. This focus on insurance is just wrong. If you bring medical costs down across the board - doctor fees, hospital fees, drug costs, etc., then insurance won't be such an issue. People should not be forced to purchase insurance. Only the insurance companies benefit when this happens. Just control the escalation of the cost of basic medical care and let us decide for ourselves whether we want insurance or not. More insurance is not the answer - lower costs is the answer!

    October 11, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  23. steve

    Republicans – they'll support anything that screws individual Americans.

    Like supporting two very expensive wars in Iraq & Afghanistan so the defense industry gets a windfall and government spending further increases the deficit – so they can defeat health care for Americans.

    And now they want Americans to again pay for it.....this time with a cap on malpractice awards.

    Malpractice insurers will win big time under this......they'll still continue with their monopolistic ways (zero anti-trust) enforcement.

    America wake up – it's time to vote every last remaining Republican out of office.

    October 11, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  24. casper

    how can you ; really pass a health care bill that will define and include helping the masses, when virtually "everyone" who has a seat in congress are in the back pocket of the lobbyist and dick amrey . and their deep pockets. who throw money around to both dem and republicans. no faith in this corrupt system where only the [haves] get the entitlement.

    October 11, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  25. Rick

    Solutions to the "healthcare crisis"

    Allow insurance companies to compete across state lines and you immediately have more competition, just like what happened with auto insurance. Cost = $0

    Allow doctors to have their patients sign a waiver to their right to sue for anything other than gross negligence. Cost = $0

    Both of these provide options to people with and without insurance without FORCING anyone to opt in, or out, or pay in.

    My problem with the current proposals is that it forces people to fund a government program even if they don't participate. How is that American? If an insurance company forced you to pay them without providing you a service the government would put them out of business immediately, yet the government engages in that sort of practice all the time.


    October 11, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
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