Posted by John Ager on 03 June 2011.
Recently, I wrote about a proposal pending in Congress to establish a system of national caps on non-economic damages suffered as the result of medical negligence. Non-economic damages are all damages other than lost wages and medical bills. I will be discussing more issues related to caps in future posts. In the archives you will find an article in which researchers have concluded that caps do not provide the benefits they promise. Even if they did provide some benefits to society as a whole, however, they are unfair to those who have been injured.
Just as one size doesn’t really fit all when it comes to pantyhose, one size of damages doesn’t fit everyone either. Caps on non-economic damages have little or no effect on those who have not suffered much of an injury. Those who are seriously injured and those who don’t work are the ones most affected.
Caps set a maximum amount that an injured person can receive for pain and suffering, no matter how badly they are injured or what the jury says they should receive. We trust juries with life and death decisions but some legislators don’t want to trust them with deciding this issue, unless the jury only awards a small amount. Then these legislators are willing to follow the jury.
A mother who is staying at home and taking care of her children is an example of someone who will not have much in the way of economic damages if she dies or is disabled. After all, she wasn’t earning anything anyway. The same is true of a retired husband or wife who dies or is disabled. The same is also true of the death of a child. They weren’t working so their lives don’t have as much value as someone who was. In our law practice, we have represented people made quadriplegics by medical negligence. It isn’t fair to say that their lifetime of paralysis should be worth no more than what we are willing to give someone with a broken leg.
Caps are a bad idea.