Noneconomic damages cap is one among several federal tort reform proposals

Last time, we looked briefly at a federal measure being proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives which would put a cap of $250,000 on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. That measure, as some readers may know, is one of a number of Republican proposals aimed at reforming the civil justice system on a broader basis at the federal level.

Another measure, called the Innocent Party Protection Act, would call for the transfer of some tort claims out of state court to the federal court system. Part of the basis for this measure is that state courts are seen as more favorable to plaintiffs. Another measure, known as the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, requires federal judges to punish attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits. The measure presumably addresses the fact that judges sometimes exercise their discretion to not punish attorneys for bringing such lawsuits. 

Yet another measure, called the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, would require that every person in a proposed class have the same type and scope of injury in order for a class-action lawsuit to proceed. This would not impact medical malpractice litigation, but it would certainly affect litigation against manufacturers of defective medical devices and dangerous drugs.

Supporters of the bills, which include businesses groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say that the measures will help address the problem of frivolous litigation, which increases the costs of healthcare and health insurance. Opponents of the bills say, on the other hand, that the measures would limit the average American's ability to pursue remedies in court against health care providers, institutions and corporations.

Access to the court system is certainly an issue in medical malpractice cases. If the likely rewards of pursuing a case do not outweigh the expenses and costs, a lawsuit is less likely sensible to pursue. That is why it is important to work with an experienced attorney who can properly evaluate the merits of a case, the prospects of a damages award, and whether or not it makes sense to pursue litigation.

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