Damage caps on injury cases harm accident and medical malpractice victims a second time

Are you willing to give up your rights to be compensated fully for ALL of the damages caused by another?

If you are injured in an accident, you can be sure that you want to recover every dollar you are entitled to for your treatment and for your pain and suffering.

But insurance companies for years have been trying to fight you tooth and nail to minimize what they pay out to you for pain and suffering due to your injuries so they can maximize their profits at your expense.

This is why we are constantly being bombarded in the legal world with proposals for caps on pain and suffering awards for injured people – a maximum dollar amount that can be paid to injury victims based on numbers pulled out of a hat, rather than on reality. Those proposals come from insurance companies and their very active, highly-paid lobbyists, who want to keep the money from you so they can keep it for themselves.

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/stuartbur

Caps are not fair for injury victims. They say that your pain and suffering, no matter how severe or long-term, has a finite value and that your case is not worth any more than the arbitrary figures designated by the caps. Such caps are only good for the insurance companies.

Caps have been introduced under the argument that they’re helping to control escalating health-care costs. But that’s not true. The costs of actual health care aren’t changing via such caps. The “savings” are only being seen in the payouts by insurance companies that are trying to pay out as little as possible to injury victims. That’s an insult to the victims.

Insurance companies argue that caps help them control costs for everyone by stopping inflated damage awards. If that were the case and if those lower payouts were saving them money, why don’t we all see lower insurance premiums as a result? Because they’re pocketing the savings to fatten their own wallets, all at the expense of victims who are seriously injured in accidents and are being limited by unfair caps on their damage awards.

If a cap on pain and suffering awards is set at $250,000, for instance, then an injury victim would be limited to only that amount for their case in their lifetime, even if their injuries were so severe from burns, a vehicle crash or other catastrophic event that they could no longer work. That is outrageous.

How about if we turn the whole world of injury payments upside down and put the onus on the real perpetrators? What if you are a victim of medical malpractice and are severely injured due to an error by your doctor or hospital? Then why not create a $250,000 maximum payment cap for your injuries from the insurance company, and force the errant doctor and hospital to pay for any and all medical treatment above that for the rest of your life? Then the ones who actually caused your grievous injuries are being forced to remember it each day because they’ll have to pay for your care. That might make it more real for them the next time they treat a patient.

In states across the nation, this issue of damage caps and their legality is being reviewed. A $500,000 cap on medical malpractice damage awards imposed several years ago in Illinois was struck down last month by the Illinois Supreme Court, according to a story in BusinessWeek.  The court found that “the limits set by the Legislature violate the state constitution’s separation of powers principle,” the story said.

This is a key theme in the fight in Congress today as the health care reform proposals continue to be batted around between Congress and the White House. Many Republicans in Congress continue to argue that such damage caps are a good way to rein in health costs. Well, that may sound like a great sound bite, but that will change the minute you are involved in a serious accident or are the victim of medical malpractice. That’s when you’ll realize that your rights are being limited all in the name of “solving the nation’s health care crisis.”

Instead, caps of pain and suffering damage awards are arbitrary and protect only the insurance companies, doctors and hospitals. They are not looking out for the victims of such tragedies. Instead, it’s an attempt to deprive innocent victims of their day in court.

Yes, as a personal injury attorney, I do have a vested interest in this emotional topic. But that doesn’t make my premise wrong. When you take away the rights of the individual in favor of a corporation, which is what damage caps are doing, then I can never side with the corporation. An individual’s rights are paramount to those of the insurance companies. I am not ashamed to say that.

After hearing all the evidence and rendering a decision, if a jury verdict is too high after a trial, there are natural controls to fix that problem and make the award fairer. The trial judge can lower the award, as can state Superior Court and Supreme Court judges, if necessary.

We don’t need caps. That’s a red herring.