Nadler: Republican Bill Denies Just Compensation for Victims of Medical Malpractice

Jun 28, 2017 Issues: Civil Liberties, Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, spoke on the floor against the Republican’s discriminatory medical malpractice legislation H.R. 1215, the so-called “Protecting Access to Care Act."

“The law recognizes that pain and suffering, and other noneconomic damages, are worthy of compensation.  But supporters of this bill think Congress, not juries, should decide what those injuries are worth – and it is shamefully little,” said Congressman Nadler. “This bill would not reduce the cost of malpractice insurance; it would not drive bad doctors out of practice; and it would certainly not protect patients.” 

Congressman Nadler's full statement follows below:

"Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 1215, the so-called 'Protecting Access to Care Act'.

"This cruel legislation does exactly the opposite of what its title states. It would place an artificial and very low cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, and it would lock that figure into law, without adjustment for inflation, which would reduce its value almost to zero over time. By capping damages, this bill would ensure that many victims of medical malpractice will not be fairly compensated for their injuries. Many other victims may be unable even to file a case in the first place because they will be unable to retain a lawyer. That is because medical malpractice cases often require significant upfront costs—as high as $100,000 on average—and few attorneys will take a case if the cap on damages means that there will be no reasonable likelihood of recouping their costs.

"This bill’s cap on noneconomic damages is particularly insidious because of its discriminatory effect on many women, children, and seniors.  They often have little, or no, lost wages to calculate and, therefore, they may recover very little in the form of economic damages.  But, they may still have suffered a real and lasting injury that deserves compensation.  This includes women who may have chosen to stay home and raise a family, children who have yet to begin their careers, or seniors who have retired and left the workforce.  Why should they be punished under this bill?

"The law recognizes that pain and suffering, and other noneconomic damages, are worthy of compensation.  But supporters of this bill think Congress, not juries, should decide what those injuries are worth – and it is shamefully little.

"This legislation is based on a California law that includes a cap of $250,000 for noneconomic damages, but it was enacted back in 1975.  Whether or not that was an appropriate figure 40 years ago, in today’s dollars, it is clearly inadequate.  After adjusting for inflation, the cap would need to be approximately $1.128 million to retain the same value.  Thinking of it another way, that $250,000 cap is now worth just over $56,000 – nearly one-fifth as much.  Eventually, it will be worth practically nothing.

"Even assuming that $250,000 is the appropriate figure today, fairness demands that this cap be indexed for inflation going forward, so that we do not see a similar erosion of value.  But this bill locks in the already low cap and lets it dwindle away until it is worth essentially zero.

"I offered an amendment to adjust the cap to reflect 40 years of inflation, and to index it going forward, but the Rules Committee did not make it in order.  Instead, we are forced to vote on a bill that, over time, will consider pain and suffering to be worth nothing at all.

"This bill would not reduce the cost of malpractice insurance; it would not drive bad doctors out of practice; and it would certainly not protect patients.  What it would do, however, is give a free ride to a health care provider, or a health care entity, that seriously harms a patient or a consumer.

"I urge my colleagues to reject this unfair and unnecessary legislation."

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