A controversial new bill known as H.R. 5 that sets severe limitations on financial awards for damages in medical malpractice lawsuits is working its way through Congress after receiving the majority of votes needed to pass in the House of Representatives on March 22, 2012.
Originally introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia in January 2011, H.R. 5 was attached to a bill intended to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), one aspect of President Obama's recent healthcare reform act. Supporters of the bill argue that IPAB will drive up Medicare expenses, but that repealing IPAB will cost millions of dollars in government spending. In order to offset the costs, H.R. 5 will drastically alter both federal and state medical malpractice laws, capping potential awards for non-economic damages at $250,000.
Since it has been estimated that nearly 100,000 people die every year from medical errors, placing such limits on malpractice lawsuits is unthinkable to many consumer advocacy and patients' rights groups, as well as many attorneys who specialize in medical malpractice. The $250,000 maximum award would apply to all malpractice cases without exception, including cases that involve negligence, defective medical devices or pharmaceuticals, abuse or neglect of the elderly by caretakers in nursing homes, cases in which there is evidence to suggest a clear intention to harm or kill, and to insurance companies who refuse to pay just claims. In addition to capping financial awards, H.R. 5 would also place a strict statute of limitations on healthcare suits and limit attorney fees.
Such federal tort reform bills are unlikely to make it past the Senate and into law, as many claim that bills like H.R. 5 are in clear violation of the state's rights provisions of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. Similar bills with medical liability provisions were introduced in 2002, 2003 and 2005; all failed in the Senate.