HR 9 Seeks to Limit Attorney Fees on Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Whether the problem is to blame on incompetent doctors or on a physician shortage due to runaway malpractice awards and frivolous lawsuits, there is no doubt that the United States House of Representatives has been swamped by both sides arguing about a crisis in their professions.
HR9, which is a bill to modify and limit pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice suits, has bipartisan support. Though it is touted as a bill that robs the poor and denies them of a fair share of damage settlements because of a $250,000 cap on damages, fine print of the bill does allow a greater settlement when warranted. The bill does allow juries to award for economic damages, but limits awards handed out by juries haphazardly with absolutely no reasoning behind it other than sympathy.
The bill sets for economic damages that are two times the pain and suffering award. The damages are on top of funds awarded for medical care and to provide medical treatment for the injured party.
So far, the bill sounds pretty good. Injured consumers can still get their fair share, with additional settlements to allow for pain and suffering, medical care, and economic damages. But the bill also takes on a different area, the one that deals with the amount of money a lawyer can make from a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Right now, there really are no clearly defined limits on the amount of fees trial lawyers can receive from these types of cases. Some lawyers, who might be amongst the poorest people in the state, can become obnoxiously rich overnight due to a ridiculous damage award on a malpractice trial.
We spoke to a few North Carolina attorneys and their opinions are mixed, though they generally follow the same sentiment. All in all, the attorneys to whom we spoke all agree that awarding an attorney such a number in the millions of dollars is not fair. One attorney brought up questions regarding the ethics behind the practice and how it relates to the law profession in general, citing that lawyers are officers of the court and must uphold high standards of ethics.
This bill places tiered limits on lawyer fees, with hopes that the injured party will be able to get more of the settlement. Of the first $50,000, 40% will go to the lawyer. An additional third of the next $50,000 awarded will go to the lawyer and 25% of the next $500,000 will go to the lawyer. About 15% of amount exceeding $600,000 goes to the attorney.
Under this new formula, a $1 million settlement would give the attorney approximately $221,500, leaving the rest for the injured party. There is no reason that a $1 million settlement should give $900,000 to the attorney. There is also concern that an injured party should not have such low caps placed on a settlement. NCCC supports reasonableness for both parts of the bill. We should all be asking whether the caps on each side are too low or too high.
The bill passed the House of Representatives 229 to 196 and is off to the Senate. In North Carolina, the bill was voted mainly on party lines. Those who voted for the bill in North Carolina are Republicans Jones, Burr, Hayes, Myrick, Ballinger, and Taylor. Those who voted against the bill were Democrats Ballance, Etheridge, Price, McIntyre, Watt, and Miller. Representative Coble, a Republican, joined Democrats on voting against the bill.