Bill could limit damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice suits

Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 10:18 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A bill introduced in the Iowa legislature would limit the amount of money people could be awarded for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.

Last year, a jury awarded an Iowa family a state record of almost $98 million after a baby suffered brain damage during birth. Several million of the award was what is called noneconomic damages. The bill would cap the amount of noneconomic damages at $1 million.

“These cases are very expensive, long-standing, very emotional, very difficult cases,” said Marty Diaz, a local attorney who has worked on medical malpractice suits for more than 30 years.

“We don’t take every case. We can’t,” he added. “We take only the cases that have the greatest merit and the most significant damages because it justifies all of that risk that the lawyers take.”

Diaz explained attorneys will advance “between $50,000 on the low end to $250,000 on the high end” to work on the case. He said a cap of $1 million on noneconomic damages would make it unaffordable for lawyers to take on these cases.

“We would have to analyze their case,” said Diaz. “Then we would be having to tell them that, based on the facts and circumstances of their case, and the fact that there’s a cap, that we’re probably, more likely than not, turning away most of the cases and being able to accept very few.”

However, healthcare providers say tort reform is necessary to ensure Iowans have health care.

“We also all find ourselves one case away from bankruptcy,” said Kevin Kincaid, CEO of Knoxville Hospital & Clinics, in a public hearing for the bill last week.

Others said the threat of a huge malpractice suit was driving doctors away from working in Iowa.

“I lose candidates for orthopedic surgery slots on a yearly basis to states that surround us, all states with hard caps,” said Dr. Craig Mahoney, an orthopedic surgeon in Des Moines.

Many at the hearing said malpractice insurance premiums were costing their businesses more and more as juries award larger verdict amounts. Ben Samuelson with UnityPoint Health mentioned the $97.4 million verdict for the Kromphardt family in 2022, saying it was part of an unsustainable trend. “It drives up with settlement value of each case,” said Samuelson.

However, Diaz maintains a cap on these damages will take away patients’ power when something goes wrong.

“I don’t believe it’s a place for government to prevent people from accessing the courtrooms, and that’s what this is going to do,” said Diaz.