Local News

Medical Malpractice Debate Takes New Twist

Posted September 13, 2003 11:27 a.m. EDT

— There's a new twist to what some say is the hottest debate in the legislature.

Residents of nursing homes and the elderly are opposing efforts to put a cap on medical malpractice lawsuits.

Joy Chamberlain wiped tears from her eyes when describing what happened to her mother in a Durham nursing home. Martha Chamberlain died from complications caused by a blood clot in one of her legs.

Doctors told Joy that her mother was taken to the hospital too late. Furthermore, a state investigation determined the nursing home was negligent.

"What a tragedy that a woman who should have enjoyed many years of watching her grandchildren grow was deprived that right because of someone else's negligence," Joy Chamberlain said.

In the debate over medical malpractice awards, voices for the elderly are speaking up. Several groups not only oppose a proposed cap of $250,000, but also are against a provision that would prevent lawyers from using nursing-home records in court.

A sponsor of the bill limiting medical malpractice awards sees things differently.

"It's going to protect them," Mecklenburg County Republican Sen. Robert Pittenger said," because what this bill is going to do is protect patient access."

In the fight over medical malpractice reform, most doctors want to limit awards. Trial lawyers are against that, saying that controlling malpractice awards will not lower insurance costs.

Pittenger said critics of the bill overlook what could happen if medical malpractice awards go uncontrolled.

"Where physicians and other health-care providers are forced to limit their practice, or to leave and go to another state, it's truly going to affect elderly people in an adverse way," he said.

Medical malpractice, considered as one of the major issues this session, has received little attention so far. A Senate select committee has been gathering data on medical malpractice, but shows no signs of taking the debate to the floor anytime soon.