The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2016 has come under fire from the American Bar Association. According to the ABA, states have had the authority to determine medical liability law for over 200 years. The HEALTH ACT seeks to eliminate the rights of states to determine medical liability law in numerous ways which would make it harder for patients harmed by medical malpractice to pursue a lawsuit and obtain fair compensation.
The American Bar Association recently sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee declaring its opposition to the bill and outlining concerns about the Act.
Among the Act’s provisions is a federally imposed cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits of $250,000. Damage caps have been passed in a number of states over the years. According to the ABA, these caps not only unfairly limit the compensation allowed to a medical malpractice victim but they also limit patients’ access to the courts. The caps make medical malpractice cases an unattractive prospect for attorneys to accept unless there are substantial economic damages, such as lost wages, which disproportionately affects low wage earners. The letter notes that states already have a mechanism in place for courts to reduce verdicts found to be excessive.
The ABA further criticized the “fair share rule” put forth in the bill. The rule would make it more difficult for victims of negligent medical care to collect fair compensation by eliminating joint and several liability for both economic and non-economic damages.
Contingent Fee Alteration
The ABA also objects to a provision that would allow courts to redirect or reduce contingent fees depending on the status of the injured plaintiff. Medical malpractice cases are among the most complex and expensive cases and the attorneys who take these cases on a contingent fee basis are taking on a substantial economic risk. A provision limiting contingent fees would further discourage medical malpractice attorneys from accepting cases where the victim’s status makes them eligible for reduced fees.
Sources: ABA Journal, “ABA opposes federal medical-malpractice bill that caps pain-and-suffering damages,” by Debra Cassens Weiss, 23 March 2016