Federal Health Act Victimizes Innocent Patients Harmed by Medical Malpractice

Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm said today that federal legislation involving non-economic damage caps violates the legal rights of patients who have been injured by medical negligence. The HEALTH Act of 2011, or H.R.5, further victimizes those who have been injured by inadequate medical care by limiting the amount of recovery that they can seek.

On May 12, 2011, lawmakers delivered a striking blow to innocent victims of medical negligence by advancing the HEALTH act through Congress. The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 30-20 to approve this dangerous piece of legislation that places an arbitrary $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in any personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. The broad scope of this bill is troubling because it extends to victims of nursing home abuse and those harmed by defective drugs or medical devices. It also shortens the statute of limitations and eliminates joint and several liability.

We believe that the law should provide protection for injured patients and their families who have been injured from defective drugs and negligent medical professionals. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 98,000 patients die every year as a result of preventable medical mistakes. The health care industry needs to be held accountable in order to protect patient safety and deter future injuries.

Consider the case of Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, where the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a similar medical malpractice cap in February 2010. The recent study by the Congressional Budget Office shows that a national cap on non-economic damages would only decrease total health care spending by 0.4%. A damage cap would actually increase the burden on taxpayers because injured patients will be forced to turn to Medicaid and Medicare for compensation. If legislators want to keep lower insurance rates, they should pass insurance reforms that introduce more competition into the market rather than unnecessarily focusing on tort reforms.

Another baseless argument that advocates of the HEALTH Act assert is that a damage cap will prevent quality physicians from moving to other states that offer lower medical liability costs. But Illinois is a clear example that even specialists like gynecologists and neurosurgeons who face the highest malpractice insurance rates are not in short supply. In fact, the number of Illinois physicians and specialists has steadily increased every year since the 1960s, outpacing the growth of doctors in more than a dozen neighboring states.

It is a basic principle of federalism that tort reform decisions should be left to the states. A federally mandated malpractice cap would rob states of this constitutionally-protected police power.

The Illinois Supreme Court has already made it clear that damage limitations are outside the bounds of the law. Every victim of medical negligence suffers unique injuries and a “one-size fits all’ approach does not do justice to blameless patients who did not receive the competent care that they were entitled to. Capping malpractice damages unfairly restricts patients’ rights and fails to reduce the rate of injury. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know that innocent victims of medical negligence already face a lifetime of pain and suffering and they do not deserve to suffer further at the hands of the federal government.

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