Congress wrestles with issue; Medical liability gearing up to be hot-button topic

Charleston Daily Mail
Friday, January 3, 2003

A walkout by West Virginia doctors could reverberate in the halls of Congress, giving added force to the arguments of those who want to change the nation's civil liability system.

"No question that by the way it's hitting the national media, it's an indicator that it's not just a problem here," said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, as cable television Thursday scrolled news of the walkout.

Capito, a Charleston Republican, and others want national curbs on attorneys' fees and caps on economic and punitive damages. Legislation passed the House last fall but stalled in the Senate. 

Restricting damage awards won't cut medical liability costs, counter plaintiffs' attorneys.
"The insurance industry itself admits that caps on damages in medical malpractice cases don't lead to lower insurance rates for doctors," the Association of Trial Lawyers of America said in a statement released Thursday. "And rates are going up everywhere - even in states that have caps. It's unfair to ask patients to give up their legal rights so the insurance industry can make higher profits."

Opponents of altering the civil liability system say they are alarmed by Washington's renewed focus on tort law changes but caution the issue remains divisive in Congress.

"It's not just Democrats but Republicans, too, who object strongly on states' rights grounds," said Joanne Doroshow of theCenter for Justice and Democracy.

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