In New York, we are one of 15 states that do not have a cap on payouts to patients in medical malpractice suits. Last year, the state paid out $760 million to medical malpractice victims, and we like to believe each victim got the amount they deserved following their difficult ordeal. In California, however, lawmakers are involved in a fight about their state's medical malpractice payout cap; many reasonable folks would consider their limits on pain and suffering awards to be far too low and unfair.
Back in the 1970s, doctors were threatening to retire or leave California because the cost of malpractice awards was causing their insurance to skyrocket. The government overreacted and sponsored legislation to cap pain and suffering awards at $250,000. They offered to adjust the cap annually for inflation, but the lawyer lobby didn't want to do that because they felt it would make the bill better, thus giving it a better chance of becoming a law. Unfortunately, that was a bad idea. Today, the cap is still $250,000; if the cap had been adjusted for inflation, it would be worth $1.1 million today.
Many lawyers in California feel it is irresponsible of the state to allow the pain and suffering cap to stay so low. They believe it harms everyone because the lack of financial responsibility promotes more malpractice, hurting more patients. Right now, preventable medical errors are the third-leading cause of deaths in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer. Imagine if doctors had a bit more a stake? Maybe they would take their time, double-check and stop a medical error before it hurts someone.
Both sides are arguing their points and it's hard to say if they will ever reach a compromise. We are glad that we practice in New York, a state that allows medical malpractice patients to seek the compensation that they need.