NC governor vetoes medical malpractice limits

Posted June 24, 2011

— Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed another bill Friday pushed by the Republican majority at the legislature, this time changes to rules governing medical malpractice cases that would have capped certain monetary awards for negligence victims.

Perdue blocked a bill from taking effect that would have limited awards for malpractice victims to $500,000 for non-economic damages. Those damages cover pain, suffering and emotional distress, but they also cover catastrophic injuries like death or brain damage in patients who can't seek compensation for lost earnings, like children and the elderly.

Perdue suggested in her veto message that she would sign into law an amended package if lawmakers developed one when they convene next month.

Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson said separately the governor had problems with the cap in the current bill.

"I commend the legislature for addressing this important issue but, in its current form, the bill is unbalanced," Perdue said in a statement. "I urge legislators to modify the bill when the General Assembly returns in July to protect those who are catastrophically injured."

The veto is a victory for the state's trial lawyers and patients who opposed vigorously any cap on what's called "non-economic" damages – those unrelated to medical bills and compensation for lost wages or income – and a setback for the state's business community and doctors. For years, they have been seeking limits they say would curtail out-of-control malpractice insurance premiums.

Such a cap had been avoided by Democrats when they were in control of the General Assembly in part because the state trial lawyers' association opposed the idea. Leaders of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice have been historically aligned with Democratic interests.

"We applaud the governor for vetoing this bill," said Dick Taylor, the chief executive officer for N.C. Advocates for Justice.

The climate changed when the GOP took charge of both legislative chambers for the first time in 140 years last November. Republican leaders also saw the measure as an economic development tool by attracting doctors to set up shop in North Carolina because of favorable liability laws.

Gov. Beverly Perdue Perdue pulls out veto stamp again

The future of an override vote on this bill is unclear when the legislature begins work again July 13.

"In countless frivolous lawsuits, trial lawyers win big and drive up health care costs for everyone. Yet Gov. Perdue chose to cater to special interests instead of reducing medical costs and improving access to care for all North Carolinians," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement. "No matter how she spins it, a veto is a veto, and this one deals a severe blow to the state’s medical community and every citizen struggling to cope with the skyrocketing cost of health care.”

The Senate passed the bill by a wide margin, but the House passed the measure by a vote of 62-44, short of the majority that would signal the chamber's ability to cancel Perdue's veto. The House vote wasn't exclusively partisan – 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans voted contrary to the majority in their respective parties on the final compromise.

The North Carolina Medical Society and North Carolina Hospital Association said in a joint statement they want lawmakers to override Perdue's veto, saying the bill already was a careful compromise.

"The governor does not get the last word on medical liability reform," N.C. Medical Society chief executive Bob Seligson said, adding the "General Assembly developed a strong bipartisan bill that will reduce health care costs, protect patients and encourage job growth."

Perdue signs other bills

The governor signed 24 other bills on Friday, including changes to the state's workers compensation program and tort reform. She called both measures "good, balanced laws."

The tort reform bill would "protect those injured and also prevent undue or disproportionate penalties from being imposed upon our companies," she said. Meanwhile, the workers compensation changes "extend protections to injured people and also provide guidelines and protections for employers."


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  • 00100111 Jun 28, 2011

    Poor Bev, trying to use the veto stamp as often as possible before she's voted out in 2012. She sees that little flashing light in the corner of her field of vision. Its her career end date, and it just sped up to high gear. Get read for GOP supermajority in both houses and a GOP gov. We'll finally fix this bassackwards state.

  • Follow_The_Money27617 Jun 27, 2011

    Good job GOP. Limiting my right to sue! Thank you for crushing the Constitution ONCE again. Who votes for these people? Whats next? Mandating ultrasounds and counseling? WAIT...we can thank the GOP for that BIG GOVERNMENT mandate too. WAIT....that was vetoed too. See you in 2012!! Jobs? Jobs? Poor GOP.

  • boatrokr Jun 27, 2011

    Yeah, say the docs screw up and brain-damage your child. That half million will last a few years at most for the parents, who will have to care for that child the rest of their lives.

  • weasel2 Jun 27, 2011

    And she said "Im for the little person and stopping health costs from spiraling out control" Whatever

  • mikeyj Jun 24, 2011

    If you have a problem and no one else can help. AND if, you can find them, you may be able to hire___________________________.

  • mikeyj Jun 24, 2011

    Let's go out in a blaze of glorrrry. Country and Western circa late 70's early 80's. Flounder floppin on the stringer.

  • SARCASTICLES Jun 24, 2011

    Another nail in the NCGOP's coffin. Nice try, guys....good luck in 2112. ;)

  • jhsawyer Jun 24, 2011

    These are the same people who complain about the high cost of healthcare. If they had to write the checks to cover their physician's malpractice insurance premiums they would begin to realize there is much more to healthcare costs than "My doctor only stayed in the room 15 minutes"

  • WRALSUCKS Jun 24, 2011

    Say goodbye Bev.

    You're so out of touch that you can't even see your state from where you sit.

  • North Carolina Home Jun 24, 2011

    John Edwards is proud of her