Bill could limit damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice suits

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) – A bill introduced in the Iowa Legislature would limit the amount of money that could be awarded to people for pain and suffering in cases of medical malpractice.

Last year, a jury awarded a state record nearly $98 million to an Iowa family after a baby suffered brain damage at birth. Several million of the award were so-called non-economic damages. The bill would limit the amount of non-economic damage to $1 million.

“These cases are very expensive, lengthy, very emotional, very difficult cases,” said Marty Diaz, a local attorney who has worked on medical malpractice lawsuits for more than 30 years.

“We don’t accept every case. We can’t do that,” he added. “We only take on the cases that have the greatest value and the greatest harm because that justifies all the risk that the lawyers are taking.”

Diaz said the attorneys would advance “anywhere from $50,000 on the low end to $250,000 on the high end” to work on the case. He said a $1 million cap on noneconomic damages would make it prohibitively expensive for attorneys to take on these cases.

“We would have to analyze her case,” Diaz said. “Then we would have to tell them that based on the facts and circumstances of their case and the fact that there is an upper limit, we probably most likely dismiss most cases and are able to accept very few.”

However, health care providers say tort reform is needed to ensure Iowans have health care.

“Plus, we’re all one case away from bankruptcy,” Knoxville Hospital & Clinics CEO Kevin Kincaid said in a public hearing on the bill last week.

Others said the threat of a huge malpractice lawsuit discouraged doctors from working in Iowa.

“I’m losing orthopedic surgery candidates every year to states around us, all hard cap states,” said Dr. Craig Mahoney, an orthopedic surgeon in Des Moines.

Many at the hearing said malpractice insurance premiums were costing their companies more and more as juries awarded larger verdicts. UnityPoint Health’s Ben Samuelson mentioned the $97.4 million judgment for the Kromphardt family in 2022, saying it was part of an unsustainable trend. “It drives up the comparative value of each case,” Samuelson said.

However, Diaz claims a cap on these damages would deprive patients of their power if something goes wrong.

“I don’t think this is a place for the government to stop people from entering the courtrooms and that’s what’s going to happen,” Diaz said.

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