New Tort Reform Bill Emerges in Congress
The idea of “tort reform”—a phrase which refers to proposed alterations in the legal system aimed at limiting a victim’s ability to obtain compensation is not a new one. The phrase sounds more enlightened than it is: prime goals of those who advocate so-called “tort reform” are to (a) limit the types of cases in which victims can bring tort lawsuits and (b) limit the amount of money a victim can obtain in a tort lawsuit. The second goal is the one which arises the most in state and national legislatures, and as our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green know, it is particularly troublesome. In our opinion, Tort Reform – Bad – because it limits the rights of injured people.
Generally, tort reform tends to be more popular within Republican and Conservative circles than it does within Democratic and Liberal groups. Thus, the more conservative states in the U.S. tend to embrace harsher caps on damages. For example, in Florida (a state with a largely Republican state government), State Statute 766.18(2) provides that noneconomic damages from injuries or deaths arising from medical malpractice by doctors shall not exceed $500,000 per claimant. Further, in certain cases, a doctor cannot be liable for more than $500,000 in noneconomic damages.
As our Delray Beach personal injury lawyers understand, noneconomic damages refer to damages intended to compensate a victim for pain, suffering, disfigurement, loss of consortium, and other non-economic losses. Our personal injury lawyers firmly believe that setting arbitrary limits on medical malpractice cases does nothing but punish victims who have suffered enough.
Because the Trump Administration is a Republican one (with a friendly Congress and Senate), the likelihood of tort reform measures gaining more traction in Washington, D.C. has increased since he took office. For example, at the end of last month, a tort reform bill—which would place a nationwide limit of $250,000 on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases resulting from federally-funded healthcare and limit the fees which plaintiffs’ attorneys can receive—cleared a key House committee vote. While the vote was close (18-17), the bill which proposes a cap of noneconomic damages that is just half of Florida’s limit advanced nonetheless.
From our vantage point, there are a number of problems with the content of this bill.
- First, by limiting the cap to cases of medical malpractice arising from federally-funded care, the bill could scare people away from government healthcare. People, especially the country’s neediest citizens, should be able to take advantage of government healthcare options without fear that doing so will limit their ability to be made whole again should a doctor leave them with serious injuries.
- Second, the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages is an arbitrary number which punishes victims. A system which assigns the same exact cap of noneconomic damages to a medical malpractice case resulting in a broken finger as it does to a medical malpractice case resulting in a broken neck is illogical and unfair.
- Lastly, it is worth noting that limiting plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees in successful personal injury cases will serve to decrease the incentives that attorneys have to take on complex cases. Some cases take years and hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars to complete successfully. If the government arbitrarily decides to limit the amount of money a plaintiff’s lawyer can recover as part of their fee, victims will have a harder time finding quality lawyers to handle their cases.