House GOP Passes Medical Malpractice Legislation That Seriously Restricts Injured Patients Rights

April 9, 2012

Illinois nursing home lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have serious concerns about a dangerous medical liability bill that recently passed the U.S House of Representatives. House Republicans pushed strongly for the passage of House Resolution 5, claiming that it will reduce overall healthcare spending. However, we believe that this flawed piece of legislation will severely impact the legal rights of personal injury victims. Elderly nursing home patients are particularly vulnerable, because the bill limits compensation for injuries resulting from nursing home negligence and abuse.

The federal health reform measure passed the House by a vote of 223-181. However, the proposal was met with opposition by at least ten Republicans, who voted against it. One of the most troubling provisions of the bill artificially limits potential medical malpractice awards by capping non-economic damages at $250,000. Non-economic damages compensate injured patients for a range of traumatic injuries, such as the loss of a limb or permanent disabilities. An arbitrary damage cap will significantly impair the rights of senior citizens who are injured in a nursing home, because these victims typically have few economic damages. As a result, some of the most vulnerable members of our society will be forced to suffer instances of neglect and abuse without any recourse or compensation.

H.R. 5 also limits medical malpractice liability, effectively shielding medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and physicians from the consequences of their negligent actions. The bill provides immunity from punitive damages, which are awarded to deter negligent behavior in extreme situations in which compensatory damages would be inadequate. Eliminating the potential for punitive damage awards also eliminates important incentives to avoid future negligent behavior towards patients.

The American Association for Justice issued a statement on the bill, explaining that it will reduce accountability in the federal healthcare system and put Americans at increased risk of injuries caused by the negligence or misconduct of others. It is a sad reality that hundreds of thousands of patients die each year from preventable medical mistakes, and the AAJ believes that this legislation will further increase the potential for errors resulting in injury or death. Our medical malpractice attorneys strongly support the AAJ's position, because we also believe that all injured patients should have equal access to fair compensation. Damage caps unfairly restrict access to justice through the court system that every citizen deserves.

The reform measure also shortens the period of time in which injured patients can file a lawsuit, further restricting the ability of victims to hold negligent parties responsible. Instead, the financial consequences will shift to third-party taxpayers, who will be forced to provide aid in the form of increased taxes. This undercuts the proposed rationale for this legislation, which is purportedly to reduce overall healthcare costs.

Fortunately, the health care reform battle over this dangerous legislation is far from over. Although the bill received significant support from House Republicans, who control a majority of the chamber, it still must pass the Senate and be signed by the President. The President recently issued an advisory statement indicating his opposition towards the bill, stating that arbitrary damage caps restrict fair compensation for injured parties.

When nursing home or medical malpractice victims are injured by negligence, they should be able to rely on the legal system for support. Negligent healthcare professionals and device manufacturers need to be held accountable when their negligent actions result in harm. Our Chicago nursing home abuse attorneys strongly oppose any legislation that restricts victim's rights and allows negligent parties to escape the consequences of their actions. We continue to advocate on behalf of all injured patients and their families.