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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the November 20, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Tort Reform?

In New Jersey there is no cap on compensatory damages

for medical malpractice, and the damages come in three forms: medical

expenses, lost wages, and non-economic damages. The latter category,

often known as "pain and suffering," includes the loss of recreational

activities and enjoyment of life.

Bills on the federal and state level would put caps on non-economic

damages for medical malpractice insurance. SB 1902, introduced in

Trenton by Republican senators Joe Kyrillos Jr. and William Gormley in

October, would put a $250,000 or $500,000 cap on non-economic damages

depending on the extent of the injury.

The American Insurance Association (AIA) and the Concerned Citizens

for Care New Jersey (www.concernedcitizensforcarenj.org) supports this

bill. "In other states, such as Maryland, that have enacted

non-economic damages caps, the markets and premiums have been much

more stable," says Jack Andryszak of the AIA. A different reform bill,

without caps, is also being proposed in the state senate.

On the federal level, the House of Representatives was considering HR

4600, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care

(HEALTH), supported by the American Association of Health Plans.

Nevertheless, most lawyers would insist that today’s rise in insurance

premiums is due, not so much to outrageous jury awards, but to the

general rise in insurance premiums from the stock market downturn

(which turned insurance investments sour) and the payouts that the

companies had to make as a result of the 9/11 attack. Moreover, they

insist, no long term study has shown conclusively that a reduction in

caps will result in lower premiums.

Says Michael Donahue of Stark & Stark: "Tort limitations restrict

people’s access to the court system and forces the court to treat

everyone the same."


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