History shows us that healers and physicians have long been held to a higher professional standard of care toward their patients. As far back as 2030 B.C., the Code of Hammurabi, Babylonian Law #218 warned that “If a physician makes a large incision with the operating knife, and kill him, or open a tumor with the operating knife, and cut out the eye, his hands shall be cut off.” Decisions from occurrences of medical malpractice were documented at the close of the 12th century A.D. on the English Common Law and Plea Rolls; the practice of which continues today. But it was nearly 100 years later when Roman laws included medical malpractice as a legal wrong and the concept of professional duty of care owed to patients began to spread throughout the European continent.
Today, monetary awards for those who are seriously injured by medical professionals are under fire by insurance lobbyists, medical providers and tort claim reformists to dilute court awards in 33 states. But in several states, legislation limiting the awards has been struck down because the stated benefit of caps, for example, lowered insurance premiums, remains unproven. Wyoming has no statutory limit on the amount of damages a successful plaintiff can receive. Other states that have constitutional prohibitions on damage caps are Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
When put to a vote, Arizonans voted down limiting monetary recoveries for malpractice claims. But in 2017, the governor stated he wanted caps on non-economic and punitive damage awards in a new healthcare bill which, had it not failed, would have replaced the Affordable Healthcare Act. He admitted that implementation of the caps would have indeed overruled two provisions that had been a part of Arizona’s constitution since its inception as a state in 1912.
In January 2018, a district court judge in North Dakota ruled the state’s legislative cap of $500,000 on non-economic damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress, was unconstitutional. After a 35-year old North Dakota woman was awarded $3.5 million-dollars for a debilitating stroke she suffered after a bungled surgery, the judge ruled that capping her award would violate the state’s equal protection provision in the state’s constitution. The hospital provider will no doubt seek other legal options.
As of this writing, thirty-three states have passed legislation that imposes an arbitrary maximum compensation award upon successful plaintiffs—a kind of one size fits all law that may or may not adequately compensate those who have received serious and life-altering injuries. If you have been injured by a medical professional, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, like a medical malpractice lawyer Indianapolis trusts, to learn if your state has enacted caps legislation on medical malpractice awards.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Ward & Ward Law Firm for their insight into medical malpractice.