From the physician's viewpoint, medical malpractice litigation has oft been called a lawsuit lottery, and in that theme, a Pennsylvania legislative committee paused in its debate over slot machine gambling and tabled a resolution that would have permitted caps on jury awards for noneconomic damages in malpractice cases.
The state Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-4 to table the resolution, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow limits on awards for pain and suffering. The vote came during a break after hours of debate on a bill to legalize slot machines.
Democrats, victims' advocates and trial lawyers largely oppose the malpractice measure, contending it would unfairly curtail the rights of victims of medical mistakes. They argue that changes in laws governing insurance companies and tighter controls on the filing of civil lawsuits, not limits on damages, would better stabilize malpractice premiums.
Physicians contend that out-of-control jury awards have made Pennsylvania a hostile place to practice. However, in recent months, some lawmakers have questioned claims whether many doctors are leaving the state.
The state House and Senate have separate resolutions on the subject, but neither chamber has been able to pass the other's resolution because of opposition in committees.
To amend the state constitution, both chambers must pass the measure in two consecutive two-year sessions and then voters must approve it in a statewide referendum. Because of the constitutional provisions, the deadline to pass the measure in this two-year session is early August, 90 days before the Nov. 2 general election.