The New York Times recently published an editorial that criticized moves by the United States House of Representatives that would affect those hurt by Illinois medical malpractice. Each Chicago medical malpractice attorney-along with all proponents of preserving the civil justice system-have followed the proposed federal measure closely. Known as H.R. 5, the federal bill would ignore basic principles of federalism and force dangerous “tort reform” proposals on every state in the union. As the editorial recently noted, the bill is entirely ill-conceived.
The bill that actually passed out of the House was actually a combination of two health care measures supported by House Republicans. The first half of the bill repealed an Independent Advisory Board. The board was intended to be a cost-control measure in order to balance the actions of the large scale Affordable Care Act. Essentially the Board was supposed to come up with ways to lower costs if Medicare spending began to exceed expectations. The Board itself would be made up of doctors, patient advocates, and consumers. However, in order to score political points, some began misleadingly claiming that the Board would somehow “ration care” and decide whether certain patients would live or die. Of course those pronouncements are untrue. But they were repeated often enough to convince some members of the public of the need to get rid of the Board.
Beyond trying to ax the Independent Payment Advisory Board, H.R. 5 also included medical malpractice “reform” laws which would be forced upon all states-even those where the measures were found to violate state constitutions or the will of the public. Our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys have been reporting on the developments of this federal bill for the past year.
In general, the purpose of the tort reform portion of the bill would be to make it harder for those hurt by medical negligence to seek fair compensation for the harm they suffered through no fault of their own. For example, pain and suffering damages would be limited to $250,000. It is not hard to imagine that this figure is far too low for some patients who may be paralyzed, blinded, or left with severe brain damage for life because of these errors. Instead of coming up with some arbitrary limit, the logical approach would be to allow juries to hear the evidence of each individual case and come up with independent assessments for what is fair compensation in each specific case.
Similarly, the bill would place restrictions on punitive damages-damages intended to punish particularly reckless conduct on the part of defendants in order to discourage others from engaging in similar conduct.
The bill is now being considered by the Senate where, hopefully, there is a much more logical and fair-minded approach to these issues. As the editorial suggested, “The Senate needs to reject or bury this legislation.” Taking a sledgehammer to the jury system, ignoring the basic concept of individual consideration of each case, and forcing random rules on all states against their will is the completely wrong approach.
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