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Why Are Doctors Talking About "Caps"? Your doctor wants to protect your health. To do that, we need a fair and reasonable court system. Pennsylvania is losing doctors. And our communities are losing young doctors at a faster rate than all other doctors. This is hitting hardest where it hurts the most; in specialties that are needed during an emergency or high-risk situations. It is also hitting hard in regions of the state that have the highest need for physicians such as rural and inner city areas.
Juries in medical liability cases are handing out huge "jackpot" awards with no real rhyme or reason. In 2001, Pennsylvania's physician total malpractice payout was more than $404 million. The second highest of any state in the country behind New York. That may benefit and enrich a lot of trial lawyers, but it hurts you, your community, and our entire state.
But I've heard "caps" would take away my compensation if I'm injured by medical negligence? That's just not correct! No one wants to take away fair compensation for patients injured by medical negligence, especially your doctor. Your doctors and hospitals agree that if you're injured by medical negligence you should receive full, reasonable compensation.
You should be made whole by receiving all (past, present and future lost wages and medical costs. Awards for lost wages and medical costs should be adequate to fully protect you from all these expenses. We believe that our courts should be able to award you the amount you need.
If I Can Still Be Fully Compensated For My Injuries, Then What, Exactly, Are "Caps"? Juries can fully compensate you by awarding economic and/or punitive damages, sometimes well into the millions of dollars, for all lost wages and lifetime medical costs. We're proposing to cap only the third type of award, non-economic damages or pain and suffering awards.
In California, this kind of cap has been law since 1975. For almost three decades, California's patients have received fair awards, doctors' insurance premiums have remained more stable and hospitals have stayed open.
The system works. Pennsylvania's communities can no longer afford an open checkbook for the jackpot jury system. It's costing you access to care. Pennsylvania's doctors, hospitals, and many supporters propose to cap non-economic damage awards at $250,000, a quarter of a million dollars.
So What Can I Do To Make Sure We Get "Caps" To Protect My Doctor And Quality Care For My Family? Right now, your Senators and Representatives are considering new laws to solve the problem and to help keep your doctor practicing in Pennsylvania.
Take action now! Talk to your doctor for more information. Call or write your Pennsylvania Senators and Representatives to support new laws to cap awards for non-economic damages and reduce jackpot jury awards. Your doctor can provide sample letters to your legislators or a postcard urging action that you can sign and drop in the mail.
The Facts: Why Your Doctor Thinks Caps Are the Best Medicine
As a concerned citizen, you may soon need to decide in the voting booth whether or not you support a reasonable cap on non-economic damage awards in Pennsylvania. Because trial lawyers squeeze huge amounts of money from our health care system, misinformation on the medical liability crisis is widespread. That's why your doctor is offering this factual information, to help you make an informed decision.
We also hope you'll take action! Help us protect your health care and support Pennsylvania's physicians in a vote for reasonable caps on non-economic damage awards.
Here are the facts:
"Caps" Protect Your Basic Health Caps on your head protect the most important part of your body from the basic elements; wind, heat, rain, snow. Reasonable caps on non-economic damages awards can protect you from trial lawyers' attempts to drain your access to basic health care. Your doctor wants to protect you and your health.
Reasonable Caps On Non-Economic Damage Awards Ensure That:
You Will Still Be Fully Compensated Caps on non-economic damages do not affect an injured patient's ability to be "made whole" for financial losses. You'll probably hear a lot of misinformation telling you otherwise.
- Your doctor can keep his or her office open and won't have to cut back on services, or retire early because he or she can't pay medical liability insurance bills.
- Trauma centers (emergency rooms) stay open in your community. If high-risk specialists needed for emergency care are forced out of your community, trauma centers must close.
- Money is available to run hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities and to fund important research, and is not diverted to pay attorneys' fees.
- Your doctors continue to practice medicine as they need to and aren't forced into practicing defensive medicine (ordering expensive and often unnecessary tests) to protect themselves against the possibility of a lawsuit.
The Root Of The Problem Is Sky-High Jury Verdicts Skyrocketing jury verdicts are the root cause of the medical liability crisis. That's why we need lawsuit abuse reform. While patients injured by medical negligence should receive fair compensation for their injuries, the prospect of mega-verdicts has a domino effect:
- A reasonable cap ($250,000) on non-economic damages would not stop, limit, or in any way prevent you from being paid 100 percent of medical expenses, loss of earnings capacity, and rehabilitation costs for life.
- Non-economic damage awards are damages that can't be measured objectively. They're sometimes called awards for "pain and suffering."
- Right now, juries in Pennsylvania are given a blank check and not much guidance on how to award non-economic damages. Problem is, these are awarded on top of other damages already awarded, resulting in "jackpot-type" awards.
- Economic damage awards can fully compensate for things like life-long medical expenses, lost earnings, cost of a nurse, rehabilitation, or other household help following a medical injury. Doctors are not advocating a cap on economic damages.
Trial Lawyers Win Most Of The Money, Anyway. Why do trial lawyers really oppose caps on non-economic damages? Simple. A cap on non-economic damages will reduce their contingency fee income in cases where they win the lottery and get excessive verdicts or unreasonably high settlements. Attorneys routinely take 30-40 percent of a patient's recovery plus reimbursement for their expenses.
- Sky-high verdicts, in turn, drive insurers to settle more often for higher amounts.
- The few insurers that remain in business in Pennsylvania are then forced to increase doctors' insurance premiums.
- High insurance costs push doctors away from Pennsylvania.
- Hospitals, medical schools, nursing homes, and other health care providers are forced to pay their high insurance costs by diverting money away from improving Pennsylvania's health care resources.
- All this increases the cost of your care and makes it harder and harder for you to find a doctor, and the wait for an appointment longer and longer.
Caps Work In Other States Lawsuit abuse is worse in Pennsylvania than in the rest of the country and yet our doctors are among the best. So why can't we solve the problem?
Limiting non-economic damages is not a new proposal. More than 20 states have some limit on non-economic damages awards.
California has had caps on non-economic damages since 1975 and, today, has:
1. Lower liability claim payments
2. Lower premiums for physicians
3. Speedier victim compensation
You Need To Decide:
Do you want trial lawyers winning every dollar they can squeeze from the injured patient and the system?
Do you want the people in your family, your community, and your commonwealth to maintain access to health care by keeping those dollars in our health care system?
Please help Save Pennsylvania Medicine. Contact Your Pennsylvania Representative and Senator.