Medical Malpractice Damage Caps

In 2003, Texas voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to impose sweeping changes to the medical malpractice law in Texas. The stated purpose was to alleviate a medical malpractice insurance crisis.

The centerpiece of the Legislature's changes to the law was imposing caps to limit the amount of damages doctors and hospitals might have to pay when their negligence harms or kills their patients. These damages caps prevents courts from awarding damages suffered by patients and awarded by juries when they exceed the relatively small limits set by the law. Specifically, the caps impose a $250,000 limit on non-economic damages in personal injury and death cases. While in theory a patient or his survivor could receive up to $750,000-which figure was publicized to Texans prior the vote by the insurance and medical lobbies-in reality that is an extremely unlikely result. For one thing, doctors are entitled to share one cap. So, there would have to be proof that, besides the doctors, at least two different entities caused a patient's injuries or death, a very remote factual circumstance.

In many medical malpractice cases, there is only one defendant whose negligence caused the patient's harm. In that situation, the patient or his survivors could only receive $250,000 of non-economic damages. This scheme works to the detriment of three groups in particular: 1) children; 2) the elderly; and 3) stay-at-home parents. That is because, in death cases, these patients typically do not have economic damages, so their bereaved families can only seek the non-economic damages cap.

What's more is that the damages cap is not adjusted to account for inflation or tied to the consumer price index. Thus, every year that prices go up, the relative value and rights of patients goes down, and the economic benefit is transferred from patients to insurance companies and the health care industry.

One final point. Many Texans were misled to believe that the proposed changes were made to combat "frivolous" cases. That is not true. Procedures existed before and afterwards to deal with frivolous suits. Rather, these caps apply to meritorious cases. That means cases where the proof demonstrates that a health care provider violated a standard of care and caused harm or death to its patient. It is those cases where patients have had their justice capped.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of medical malpractice, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz by calling 713-222-7211 or toll free at 1-800-870-9584.

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