A few weeks ago on this site, my Carolina medical malpractice plaintiff’s attorney colleague Rick Shapiro applauded the governor’s veto of a North Carolina bill to limit noneconomic monetary damage awards for victims of medical mistakes and surgical errors made by doctors, nurses or pharmacists who provided emergency medical services. Rick also noted that the protection of the rights injured patients have to receive compensation that fully reflected pain and mental suffering was most likely temporary.
He wrote that Republican majorities in the NC House and Senate could override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of SB 33. He also explained that Perdue had promised to sign off on some form of so-called "tort reform," meaning it was all but a matter of time before family members who lost loved ones to medical malpractice and individuals who left hospitals in worse health than when they entered faced limits on how much they could recover in wrongful death or injury lawsuits, even when they could prove negligence on the part of health care providers and health care organizations.
As predicted, both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly voted during the week of July 11-15, 2001, to enact medical malpractice caps in cases involving negligent care provided in emergency rooms. The changes to the medical tort statute in the Tar Heel State also place requirements on most plaintiffs and their attorneys to prove a defendant’s liability in one trial before establishing the amounts of damages due in a separate trial. In other words, lawmakers in North Carolina have made it more difficult for medical malpractice victims to receive justice and also ensured that, in regards to compensation for pain and suffering, justice cannot exceed $500,000.
Proponents of the new North Carolina malpractice cap argued that putting the limit in place was essential for lowering overall health care spending. This reasoning is flat-out false, as I’ve written many times before. In fact, recognizing that placing arbitrarily caps on damage awards does nothing to save money and actually adds financial insult to physical injuries, several states such as Virginia, Maryland, Illinois and Louisiana have recently raised or eliminated ineffective and unfair caps.
I hope for the sake of North Carolinians that their lawmakers correct their state’s course on malpractice caps sooner rather than later.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.