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Congress seeking medical malpractice lawsuit restrictions

A medical malpractice lawsuit is the patient’s remedy for physician errors and surgical accidents. However, pending legislation in Congress could impede a patient’s ability to obtain compensation from a physician or hospital in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.

The House passed, in party line votes earlier this month, two bills intended to limit these lawsuits. The Innocent Party Protection Act would transfer some lawsuits from states courts, that are viewed as being more sympathetic to plaintiffs, to federal courts.

It also approved the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act. This proposal would allow federal class-action lawsuits if every person in the class had the same injury type and scope. Other proposals are being considered. The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act would require federal court judges to sanction lawyers if they represented clients in lawsuits that are found to be frivolous.

The Protecting Access to Care Act, would restrict medical malpractice awards to $250,000 for noneconomic damages including pain and suffering, permanent disfigurement, or other serious disabilities that do not restrict the ability to work. Current law contains no caps on these awards.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the sponsor of the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, claimed that his bill is intended to correct an imbalance in the civil lawsuit system that favors plaintiffs and their lawyers. Other proponents of these measure argue that frivolous lawsuits are bankrupting businesses, denying compensation to legitimate victims and forcing hospitals and physicians to enter unfair settlements.

Most Democrats and other opponents said that these measures would limit plaintiffs from filing valid lawsuits and restricting access to the courts. Other critics cited the lack of public congressional hearings on the measures which were quietly approved along a party line vote by the House Judiciary Committee.

The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act was also criticized as impacting asbestos trusts that distribute funds to victims of asbestos illnesses. These trusts would have to publicly disclose names, medical information and award amounts to restrict fraudulent claims. Opponents of this measure including 18 groups representing military veterans who are disproportionally afflicted with asbestos-related injuries and illnesses, argue that it would violate privacy rights.

Nonetheless, malpractice victims retain the right to seek compensation. An attorney can help victims and their families assure that their rights are protected in court under the laws that are in effect.

Source: The Washington Post, “House GOP quietly advances key elements of tort reform,” By Kimberly Kindy, March 9, 2017