What to Know About Tort Reform in the U.S.
Doug Bennett, Contributing Writer
A tort is either an omission or an act that harms or injures another person, i.e., a civil wrong. The tort system essentially requires that victims receive full compensation for proved harm—usually in the form of money—from those who are responsible or at fault for harming them. In the medical context, harm can include medical expenses, payment for pain and suffering, loss of income during recovery, loss of future income, and loss of one or more body parts.
Tort reform in the United States proposes changes to the civil justice system aimed at reducing both the ability of victims to litigate and the damages they can receive if they choose to litigate and do so successfully. It is a contentious political matter.
Advocates prefer imposing limits on the ability to file medical malpractice claims for personal injuries incurred while receiving care in order to address the perception that the current system distorts economic impacts in the way of overly generous—and sometimes downright frivolous—jury verdicts. Most proposed or existing tort reform laws are aimed at making it more difficult for injured people to file a lawsuit or obtain a jury trial, and at limiting the amount of money injured people can receive in a lawsuit.
Supporters of the existing tort system, including many consumer advocates, believe that tort reform measures are nothing more than disguised attempts to protect and benefit businesses (like hospitals, physician practices and health systems) that have injured innocent victims.
Regardless of where you stand on the matter, it’s important to become aware of the status of tort reform laws and measures in your current home state as well as other states where you might choose to live and practice medicine.
As of 2016, thirty-three states have imposed caps on any damages sustained in medical malpractice lawsuits: Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The caps vary from state to state, ranging from $250,000 per incident to as much as $2.25 million. The remaining states and the District of Columbia do not impose damage caps in medical negligence tort claims.
Tort reform measures are highly variable across the states, and state laws are always subject to annual changes, so please be certain to speak to an attorney or another legal authority in your area to ensure you have the latest information as you evaluate places to live and work.
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