Recently, the Kansas State Supreme Court upheld a state law limiting the amount of noneconomic damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff. In Kansas, a plaintiff can only receive $250,000 for noneconomic damages from a personal injury lawsuit. Noneconomic damages include pain and suffering. Now, this cap does not occur in New York State, however, I believe it is important to discuss this issue; especially since tort reform in the medical field is being discussed in Albany.
One of the biggest problems with the Kansas law is that the cap was passed in 1988 and the capped amount ($250,000) has never been adjusted. It has not even been adjusted for inflation. However, Kansas is not the only state with a cap, seventeen state courts have upheld caps. But it is important to know that caps, even though they are gaining momentum in some states, do not work. Two years ago, the Georgia high court struck down medical malpractice caps. Recently, Missouri followed suit and also struck down damage caps.
Capping damages is meant to help stop malpractice liability rates from increasing and reduce premiums that cause healthcare to be so expensive in this country. However, the Congress Budget Office has found that less than two percent of health care costs can be attributed to medical malpractice. Additionally, in the past few years, malpractice liability rates are no longer increasing and the rates have been going down in states that have caps and states that do not have caps. Further, across the country medical malpractice premiums have been declining since 2006; and if adjusted for inflation are the lowest in thirty years. The reduction of malpractice liability rates can be attributed more to patient safety methods than to caps. The insurance premiums are falling in states without caps.
A focus on patient safety will help reduce the costs of health care more than any cap ever truly could. The amount of medical errors in this country is high and the more errors made the more expensive things get. It is estimated that only twelve percent of hospitals in this country have a patient safety program and that there are approximately 40,000 incidents of medical harm each day in this country. Patient safety is extremely important because these medical errors cost the health care industry almost $9 billion a year. If patient safety can reduce that high cost, it would be much more significant than caps ever will.
When it comes to patient safety the numbers are staggering, and something must be done to address this issue. Caps will not correct the high costs of malpractice rates because they do not address the reasons that the costs are so high. We must work together to reduce malpractice rates, patient safety is the key and caps are not the answer.
But what do you think? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected] . You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.