Local News

House Panel Considers Putting Cap On Malpractice Awards

Posted February 10, 2004 7:55 a.m. EST

— Although the numbers vary, different studies show between 44,000 and 98,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors.

Many of the cases end up in court.

According to lawyers, victims and their families should be compensated for their loss. But doctors want to limit damage awards -- statewide and nationally.

April Messer is one of several malpractice victims who will testify Wednesday in Raleigh before a state House panel considering a $250,000 cap on medical malpractice awards.

A medical mistake when she was a newborn left Messer's 7-year old daughter, Macy, with brain damage and Messer with mounting bills.

"I think it's very important for people to realize, outside of medical expenses, there are costs that far exceed the costs of pumps," parent April Messer said, "medical pumps, feeding pumps . . . "

Victims, and trial lawyers are fighting the cap.

Do you favor putting a cap on medical malpractice awards? Yes No

"If you're seriously disfigured, if you've lost a limb, you've suffered a loss," said Dick Taylor, of the Academy of Trial Lawyers. "Who should bear the burden of that -- just the innocent victim?"

Doctors, meanwhile, counter that a cap is needed. Obstetrician Sandy Easley -- the governor's brother -- said out- of-control jury awards are pushing insurance premiums through the roof.

"This is causing practices to break up and obstetricians to move to other locations to try to get a new start," Easley said.

The state Senate passed its medical malpractice bill last fall. It includes a number of reforms, like a mandate for reasonable insurance rates and litigation reform to control court costs.

The bill does not include a cap on damages. That is why some doctors do not want to leave it up to the state.

The full House will not consider a bill until it meets again in May. Until then, doctors have launched a campaign for a national bill -- before there are not enough doctors for patients in need.