A flat cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases is unfair to plaintiffs, particularly those who suffered grave injuries, researchers said. In a sampling of jury verdicts in California -- which has a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases -- the reduction in damages for plaintiffs with grave injuries was seven times larger than for plaintiffs with minor injuries. Individuals suffering from pain and disfigurement endured particularly large reductions in their awards, according to the study. "Decisions to implement caps should be made with an awareness that they are likely to exacerbate existing problems of fairness in compensation," the authors wrote in a report in the July/August Health Affairs.
"A flat dollar cap is unfair," study author David Studdert said. "When you look at the verdicts that are affected by caps, what you see is a really large number of cases that involve major injury." Studdert, an associate professor of health policy and law at Harvard University, said lawmakers should consider a sliding-scale cap. Twenty-one states have some level of cap on noneconomic damages in malpractice cases. Meanwhile, a separate study found that nearly 40% of 824 Pennsylvania specialists surveyed in 2003 said they were dissatisfied with the practice of medicine. Read abstracts on the California study or the Pennsylvania study. -- by Michael Romano