Pa. Legislature Rejects Med-Mal Caps

July 6, 2004

The Pennsylvania Legislature declined to advance a measure that would allow limits on the dollar amount juries can award for pain and suffering in medical malpractice claims.

The House voted 107-93 last Friday against an attempt to force the chamber’s Judiciary Committee to release the resolution on the so-called pain-and-suffering “caps.” Hours earlier, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee voted 10-4 against moving the resolution to the full Senate floor.

“It’s safe to say that for this year, unfortunately, the issue of caps is dead,” said Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, a leading proponent of the resolution.

The measure, which would amend the state Constitution, has been advocated by physicians who say that out-of-control jury awards have made Pennsylvania a hostile place to practice. Some lawmakers, however, question claims that doctors are leaving the state.

Proponents, including many Republicans, framed the measure as a way to stabilize the state’s rising insurance rates for medical malpractice.

Opponents — composed largely of Democrats, victims’ advocates and trial lawyers — contend that the measure would unfairly curtail the rights of victims of medical mistakes, and say medical malpractice insurance rates are not rising because of jury awards.

They say changes in law governing insurance companies and tighter controls on the filing of civil lawsuits, not limits on damages, would better stabilize the rates physicians must pay for insurance.

In the past four months, the House and Senate have each passed a resolution on the subject, but neither chamber has been able to pass the other’s resolution because of what Corman and other proponents say is opposition in committees.

To amend the state Constitution, both the House and Senate must pass the measure in two consecutive two-year sessions and then it must be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.

Because of constitutional provisions, the deadline to pass the measure in this two-year session is early August, 90 days before the Nov. 2 general election.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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