Mixed Bag on Medical Malpractice Reform Efforts

Two states, West Virginia and North Carolina, demonstrated this week the polarized nature of medical malpractice reform. In North Carolina, Governor Bev Perdue vetoed a medical malpractice reform bill that would have capped non-economic damages at 500,000 regardless of the severity of the damage. “I commend the legislature for addressing this important issue, but, in its current form, the bill is unbalanced. I urge legislators to modify the bill to protect those who are catastrophically injured when the general assembly returns in July,” Perdue said.
In West Virginia, the state’s supreme court voted in favor of upholding the state’s 2003 law which capped pain and suffering damages at $250,000.
“While one or more members of the majority may differ with the legislative reasoning, it is not our prerogative to substitute our judgment for that of the legislature, so long as the classification is rational and bears a reasonable relationship to a proper governmental purpose,” Chief Justice Margaret Workman (D-W. Va.) wrote in the opinion.
Medical malpractice reform and legislative caps on damage awards are contentious issues. However, one issue should be clear: these so-called reforms and legislative damage caps erode and weaken the civil justice system in which a jury has the power to make decisions about awards and damages. Our justice system is founded upon the jury process. When that process is weakened through judicial or legislative fiat, we all lose.