Liability coverage at issue; House bill would cap attorney fees, punitive awards

Charleston Daily Mail
Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Like a patient awaking from a coma, medical malpractice legislation has been given a new lease on life as federal lawmakers refocus on the liability insurance issue.

By day's end, a key House committee is expected to approve a bill capping punitive damage awards and attorney fees.

While medical malpractice has been a headline-grabbing subject in a number of states, notably West Virginia and Nevada, Congress largely has refrained from entering the debate, devoting only cursory hearings to rising insurance premiums and escalating jury awards.


"We know patients aren't coming out on top," said Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., whose committee debates the bill today. "The system is frankly broken."

The bill caps both punitive and non-economic, or pain and suffering, damages, limits the amount of time during which a health care-related lawsuit can be filed and restricts attorney contingency fees. The legislation would apply to suits filed in both federal and state courts unless the state provided even greater protections to defendants.

Opponents say the measure takes aim at the wrong issue. If doctors face mounting insurance bills or lose coverage, the real culprit is the insurance industry, said Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice and Democracy. Insurers simply are trying to recoup the losses from a cyclical downturn in the insurance market by raiding the wallets of doctors and their patients, she said.

"There's nothing in this bill to help patients at all," Doroshow said.

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

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