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AARP North Carolina Opposes State Medical Malpractice Bill

AARP North Carolina joins the list of patient safety advocates objecting to NC Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Sens. Tom Apodaca, Harry Brown and Bob Rucho.

This new bill would put vulnerable patients at risk by setting an arbitrary cap on medical malpractice damages for disfigurement, mutilation, loss of limb, paralysis, pain, suffering and death. The one-size-fits-all cap on damages would be especially devastating for injured children, homemakers, and the elderly, who have limited economic damages. The bill would also provide immunity for emergency room personnel when they commit malpractice.

Bill Wilson, AARP’s associate state director for advocacy, told legislators they should work to “bring down the incidence of medical malpractice, not create a road block for individuals seeking appropriate relief.”

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that 4,000 patients die and 5,700 patients are permanently injured in North Carolina hospitals every year because of preventable medical mistakes.

Two retired NC Supreme Court Justices have advised legislators that the proposed cap is “unconstitutional and unnecessary.”

Wilson also noted that SB 33 would amount to a cost shift – with insurance companies shifting the load to taxpayers: “If individuals are unable to obtain legal representation then taxpayers will pick up the tab for the medical costs through Medicare and Medicaid, instead of the party who caused the malpractice.”

SB 33 Unfair to Tax Payers

Wilson’s comments to lawmakers are as follows:

“There are several parts of the bill that AARP has concerns about, but I want to focus on the section that limits the compensation for non-economic damages.

Older adults who are retired or disabled or who are just not employed outside the home would not be entitled to economic damages beyond medical costs. In many cases, the medical costs may not be substantial, even though the harm from the malpractice was significant.

Medical costs may be limited such that the injured person could not obtain legal representation because the cost to pursue a lawsuit would outweigh the potential recovery. This would leave the injured person with no recovery at all.

Because non-economic damages are likely to constitute a larger share of an award for retired, disabled, unemployed, or poor people, the cap on non-economic damages would disproportionally disadvantage these same individuals.

Limiting non-economic damages is a particular problem for older adults who may be in an assisted living facility or a nursing home. If these individuals are unable to obtain legal representation then taxpayers will pick up the tab for the medical costs through Medicare and Medicaid, instead of the party who caused the malpractice.

The General Assembly should look for ways to bring down the incidence of medical malpractice, not create a road block for individuals seeking appropriate relief for the harm they have suffered.”

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