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. Pamela

    The insurance companies are making out like bandits. They are making billions of dollars in profits and these Republicans are going after the victims?


    Thank you, Senator Casey for coming out strong.

    October 11, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  2. Gary

    All these people saying they want limits on damages. Yea right,untill you are the victim. My doctor amputates the wrong limb,or testicle, or screws up a med. that cripples me or damages my brain. I want justice.

    October 11, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  3. Dan in FL

    A cap on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering would be a realistic way to lower insurance premiums. There should be no cap on any economic damages incurred such as the cost of corrective procedures and/or the need for future care caused by a medical error. This would allow doctors to be held accountable while preventing patients from winning the lottery from a sympathetic jury.

    October 11, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  4. Lora B.

    It is just like the republicans to side with big business over the little guy. They don't give a darn about the average "joe," their only concern is what they can do to help the insurance companies get richer! Health care reform – yeah right – what BS! Go figure!

    October 11, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  5. edwin kihika

    I think that limiting damages to this figure is both insulting and unfair. Let's just say for the sake of argument that an incompetent doctor causes your death and you leave behind a wife and two young children, would this amount be sufficient to cover the needs of your family? If there's evidence of wrong-doing by a doctor, then a jury should decide the amount of compensation.

    October 11, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  6. Sam I Am

    $250,000 does not begin to cover the medical expenses and suffering of someone wronged at the hands of an inept physician. Hey! I have an idea! Let's bring down healthcare costs through a public option and other initiatives, and maybe a $250,000 cap for expenses will be reasonable! As far as punishing ineptness and lassitude go, there should be no cap. If a physician is arrogant or lazy enough to get him or herself into trouble by crippling or killing a patient, then they need to pay, and pay big.

    October 11, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  7. Dan G

    The only Tort reform needed is to use our common sense and create an accountable system that; Sets guidelines for Tests and allow patients to pay for extra Tests and if these extra Tests find something then insurance should be required to pay for it. If not the patient pays.

    Also, disbar attorneys that bring frivoulous lawsuits.

    Never ever limit a persons right to a judgement amount.

    Let's all take responsibility.

    October 11, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  8. Marc

    The problem is this. Most medical lawsuits are frivolous. That means that catastrophic medical errors are few and far between. In defense of doctors, they are set against high expecatations. The problem with that is the following. 1) Doctors aren't God. They can't prevent everything and definitely can't cure a lot of things. 2) Patients need to be accountable. A lot of patients do not follow recommendations by their doctors. While there are some doctors who are not good at all, most are competent and care about their patients. With that said, I think that to have an impact of reducing unneeded tests being ordered by physicians, malpractice reform with malpractice insurance reform is needed. I know that no one likes that, but anything to reduce cost is important. The fact is I know an OBGYN who got sued because she performed a life saving hysterectomy and another who got sued by a patient whom he delivered 8 years ago because her son was not doing well in school. I mean there is something wrong with that.

    October 11, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  9. David

    My good friend's father had the wrong leg amputated. After all of that he still had to have his bad leg taken.

    He received a couple million for his pain & suffering which in my mind wasn't near enough.

    To offer people like this a maximum of 250k is not only insulting, it's asinine.

    Capping damages like this will only lead to more widespread medical malpractice.

    October 11, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  10. Roger in CA

    I think the CBO's analysis shows that the idea that there is massive waste in medicine for fear of tort liability is–to put it politely–a bit of an exaggeration.

    Plus, capping pain and suffering damages is only a small part of the liability issue. It doesn't cap economic damages, which can just as easily get exaggerated. Even assuming doctors practice "defensive medicine" for fear of liability, capping pain and suffering doesn't do enough to reduce that exposure.

    There is a problem with this and almost all other areas of the law: jury trials will often result in scientifically-dubious results favorable to the sympathetic, "little guy" plaintiff, but, on the other hand, alternative dispute resolution forums (e.g., arbitration) tend either to reflexive, "split the baby" results or to favor the defendant, who is the "repeat customer."

    October 11, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  11. Debbie

    Cap insurance. Reform in the definition area of what is mal-practice would help prevent frivous lawsuits but there still needs to be protection of American citizens when the doctors and the hospitals are careless.

    October 11, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  12. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, North Carolina

    And malicious and/or frivolous "deep pockets" lawsuits, devoid of merit, aren't "insulting" to their victims?

    This is a country where an idiot won a lawsuit against McDonalds for spilling hot coffee all over herself, alleging that the restaurant hadn't warned her that the hot coffee she'd ordered was going to be hot. A number of years ago, a friend of mine, an airplane mechanic, was sued because he'd once replaced a battery in an airplane which was subsequently crashed by an amateur pilot flying into a thunderstorm.

    The medical profession needs protection from people filing baseless lawsuits. If you don't like damage caps, think of a better way to do that.

    October 11, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  13. Ronnie from New Orleans La

    Hold on some of you disgrunteled misleading, lying Repubs are trying to make this cap on malpractice lawsuits the fault of President Obama, like Bugl3t, this anus is a repub, President Obama has not said what he would vote for yet.

    This is still being argued by the House and Senant. The cap shud be 3 million, no one can put a price on life thou, to me President Obama is trying everything possible to get everyone covered under a Health care system that does not raise your premiums, or disqualify you for treatment.

    Yes, there are alot of crooked politicians up there on Capital Hill that are getting super paid by the insurance lobbiest, but that has been going on way before President Obama took office.

    October 11, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  14. Carl

    Well to play devil's advocate on the issue, remember 20% of all medical costs is FRAUD.

    They need to focuse on that aspect, you know the ones where people, insurance companies, and lawyers SCAM the system.

    This is not how you do it.

    Also, 50,000 Americans die each year because of doctor's and medicine. Nothing is perfect and no solution or health care reform will solve this problem.

    October 11, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  15. Ted Tartaglia

    Meaningful and fair tort reform is a good idea. Limiting damages to $250,000 is ridiculous especially since physicians are unwilling to discipline incompetent doctors.

    Of course Repub are pushing what they call tort reform because they seek to cripple lawyers.

    October 11, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  16. Big Blue Patriot

    Poster "tate" (12:14 pm EST) is partially correct.

    The GOP knows that many trial lawyers support democratic candidates, and that any blow to their incomes will hurt the party's fundraising.

    This is exactly the same strategy they've been pursuing for the last two decades in regard to radical tax reductions for the upper class, albeit with a different target, the federal government (see G. Norquist).

    Taxation and tort awards may be far from perfect, but Conservatives and the GOP, along with the activist judges on the Supreme Court, want to eradicate every form of resistance to corporate governance that exists. In other words, fools like "tate" who go along willingly in the name of "freedom" are helping end democracy in this country.

    October 11, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  17. Carol

    As a mother of a disabled son, I can tell you that $250,000 for malpractice is a spit in the ocean. If you are disabled through someone else’s negligence or incompetence, $250K won’t go far, not at today’s medical prices. Then what do you do? Die quickly?

    October 11, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  18. Ted Tartaglia

    The only way to reduce medical costs is to strictly regulate insurance companies. Congress will not vote to regulate insurance because most of them are in the pockets of insurance companies, Repubs and Democrats alike.

    October 11, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  19. Lee McLaurin

    Of course the republicans want to cap the amount average citizens can sue when they're hurt by doctors/hospitals. I agree with the previous poster who stated that the amount that insurance companies charge doctors should be capped, not the amount you can sue for when you are injured by neglectful doctors/hospitals. They should take responsibility for their failures. the bottom line is that insurance companies want to charge outrageous fess for insurance, which causes hospitals to charge ridiculous fees for service. When they screw up that service, the inusrnace companies want to bear no responsibility for any of it. They're nothing but sharks.

    October 11, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  20. No Hillary = No Obama

    This is chicken feed. How much do these insurance companies,doctors and hospitals make???? Insulting is not the word – robbery is the word.

    October 11, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  21. sk

    I will leave some numbers for you to mull over. Malpractice reform will bring down costs.

    I am an orthopaedic surgeon who has never been sued, I am in fifth 5th year of practice.

    In my first 3 years – I was in connecticut. My malpractice insurance was 50,000 dollars per year. After 3 years I decided to move to another state – I had to pay a tail coverage – the cost of that was 100,000 dollars. For those of you who do not know – tail coverage is required to cover you against law suits that may be brought 5 years from now by some one I treated in my 3 yrs in connecticut because that 50,000 dollar per year policy was like car insurance – expires at the end of the year.

    Recently I met another orthopaedic surgeon close to retirement from California – his malpractice rate is 18000 per year. This is because california has a cap on pain and suffereing damages.

    Currently I take no chance. Right now, if you want an MRI – you will get an MRI even if clinically it is not indicated. That is because if there is a one million chance that you have something that will be diagnosed on that MRI – I do not want you to sue me. I have put in 10 years of training and borrowed a few hundred thousand dollars and worked very hard to get where I am. My duty to protect my capacity to practice my craft is sacrosanct. You will take risks and you will pay. I will take no risk or no chance.

    so will the costs come down with malpractice reform – you bet they will.

    October 11, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  22. Mike

    250,000 is only a cap on "Pain and Suffering" – actualy compensatory damages are still commensurate with harm.

    Really that may be too low but its not crazy – 500,000 might be more in line.

    If you don't cap damages you're going to force them to launch into a whole new regulation of malpractice insurance which is another bailout waiting to happen. The truth is most doctors don't make THAT much money any more and with this health reform it's going to be even less. On top of that the cost of Malpractice insurance is so high in some states they can't staff their hospitals any more because many doctors who are carrying a hundred thousand dollars+ in student loans simply can't afford to practice there.

    The worst part of the current malpractice system though is that doctors are so afraid of getting sued they're afraid to try even life-saving therapies if there's any chance something will go wrong and they'll get sued. Take it from someone in the healthcare field – a LOT of people are getting standard-of-care treatments right into the grave when riskier therapies could have saved them because no one wants to risk getting sued.

    October 11, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  23. Anthony McMahon-Illinois

    A savngs of $54 billion is nothing to sneeze at. We are all going to have to take a bite out of this "poop" sandwich, if you will, for anything to succeed. I agree with Sen. Casey that a $250K cap is insulting' however, it doesn't have to be $250K. It could be higher and you could add in "sunset" provisision which migjht allow you to go back to the number in 5 or 10 years and adjust it or get rid of it if there is no discernable impact. Again, as pointed out, there is no cap on economic damages (wages, benefits, etc.) But if you are a stay at home mother, retured or eben unemployed you may have little to no economic damages. medical costs for future care are not capped either. Thus, if you are in need of 24 hour care that will be paid as part of any settlement or judgment-presuming there is liability. What most people don't know is that the vast majority of medical malpractice cases are losers. In Cook Co., IL about 25%-30% result in an injured person getting a verdict in their favor. The rest of the time juries tend to find for the medical provider. That's because there is either no liability or the injured person does not do a convincing job of proving their case.

    October 11, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  24. Steve S

    I suppose the GOP could actually START participating in the debate, with something other than just "No."

    October 11, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  25. sk

    There is an alternative to trial by jury. It is called arbitration. Of course if you are maimed by a surgeons knife you should be compensated and medical mistakes should not go unpunished.

    As a surgeon, I see plenty of people who are rear ended in MVA with no medical damage to them whatsoever except for minor aches and pains. 99% of them come up with phony complains which persists till the MVA case is settled. This is the type of law suit I am talking about. there are plenty of such non-sense medical law suits..

    In this society there are plenty of people who are looking to make money any how and do not care where and how it comes from. A medical malpractice is a great source of money to such people.

    October 11, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
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