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Senate Bill Calling for Medical Malpractice Caps Likely to Fail

A contentious atmosphere surrounds the Senate bill designed to cap damage awards in medical malpractice cases, with doctors and Republicans squaring off against trial lawyers and Democrats in a battle over patients’ rights. Republicans, backed by President Bush, claim that a $250,000 cap on the amount victims can receive for non-economic damages in a medical malpractice case would help rein in mounting insurance costs for doctors. Democrats attack the limit as arbitrary and in many cases insufficient. “It’s absurd to suggest that $250,000 is adequate for someone who is paralyzed for life,” said Senator Edward Kennedy.

The bill would also limit the amount of money attorneys could collect if they take a malpractice case on a contingency fee. Attorneys working on a contingency fee are only paid if they win the case, and many people fear medical malpractice attorneys will be less likely to risk their own money to fund the case if limits were placed on their fee base. The caps on jury awards and lawyer’s fees have created strong divisions along party lines, and it does not seem likely that the bill will fail. Republicans need 60 votes to stop a Democratic filibuster and seem pessimistic about their chances to gain even 50 of those votes. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R.-Tenn, is expected to remove the measure following the initial vote. Frist has been accused of a conflict of interest as his family stands to gain considerably from the imposition of caps.

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