Obama address causes heartburn for tort lawyers

The Hill
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

President Obama's State of the Union speech is already causing consternation among trial lawyers, half an hour before he even delivers it.

According to his remarks as prepared for delivery, Obama will throw a bone to Republicans by vowing to take up medical malpractice reform. For the GOP, that usually means a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages and other restrictions, as spelled out in legislation introduced this week by Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and David Scott (D-Ga.).

"I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs," Obama is scheduled to say, "including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits."

The remarks outraged Center for Justice & Democracy Executive Director Joanne Doroshow, who testified last week before the House Judiciary Committee that lawmakers should not try to "reduce health care costs on the backs of injured patients."

"To Republicans, this means proposals like across-the-board 'caps' on compensation for patients injured by medical negligence, particularly 'non-economic damages caps' that cover injuries like permanent disability, disfigurement, blindness, loss of a limb, loss of a women's reproductive system, paralysis, trauma, or pain and suffering," Doroshow said in a statement Tuesday evening. "Tort restrictions like these apply across the board to all cases, not just 'frivolous' cases."

Doroshow and others often point to a famous 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine to argue that limiting financial penalties in medical malpractice cases would have deadly consequences for patients. The report, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System," estimated that 44,000 to 98,000 patients a year die in hospitals across the country because of medical errors.

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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