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Article argues arbitrary medical malpractice caps a bad idea

A recent article in a prominent medical journal may be of interest to our Atlanta readers. The article addresses the need to control growing medical costs in the United States. It concludes, among other things, that arbitrarily capping damages in medical malpractice suits is not a reasonable alternative.

Several states have attempted to place such arbitrary caps on damages awarded for doctor negligence or hospital negligence. This study cites Congressional Budget Office findings that such caps would reduce national health spending by only 0.5 percent.

Solutions to cut medical costs are discussed at length in the article. Most involve placing controls on the volume of unneeded services delivered and regulating prices for those services that are delivered. The basis of many of the ideas centers on mandated self-regulation of the industry by state to set prices tied to the average wage growth. Others focus on lowering administrative costs that do nothing to improve health outcomes. But there is also the recommendation to crap arbitrary malpractice caps.

Traditionally, under state law the amount of damages in a malpractice case has been determined by a judge and/or jury based upon the individual evidence produced in each separate case. Damages are limited only by the extent to which the jury finds they have not been proven.

A specific injury does not affect all people in the same way. Whether a right-handed man who suffers a broken left arm will be damaged in his ability to pursue a livelihood will depend on a number of factors, including the man's job, the severity of the injury, and the success of treatment. An office worker may be less damaged in his income than an assembly line worker with the same injury. A concert pianist may be totally disabled for life by long term complications that would be insignificant to people in other professions.

The amount of pain resulting from any particular injury may also vary widely, depending on the person and the unique facts of that person's life. To attempt a "one-size-fits-all" approach to damages in personal injury cases is contrary to law and to common sense.

Source: New England Journal of Medicine, "A Systemic Approach to Containing Health Care Spending," Ezekiel Emanuel, et al., Aug. 1, 2012

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