Panel pondering malpractice bill

A House committee hopes to take a stand on the complex bill before the next session

Staff WriterMarch 19, 2004 

After nearly six months of meetings, a special state House committee considering changes in North Carolina's medical malpractice laws is trying to pick a direction.

Should it back a $250,000 cap on jury awards for patients' pain and suffering? Or should judges be able to review non-economic damages after a trial and reduce them if they see fit?

Should a panel of retired judges determine before a trial whether malpractice has occurred? Should the courts have separate trials on liability and damages where the plaintiff seeks more than $100,000?

That jumble of options went into the "consider" pile for the committee Thursday, for members to chew on for a few more weeks.

"Anything that gets a majority of votes would be included in the recommendations of this committee," said Rep. Joe Kiser of Lincoln County, House Republican leader and one of the committee co-chairmen.

Doctors and hospitals are pushing for the $250,000 limit on jury awards for non-economic damages, which they say will reduce their malpractice insurance costs. Trial lawyers say caps aren't a cure for rising insurance premiums and would hurt patients suing over medical mistakes.

The malpractice bill the state Senate passed in September does not include any caps on jury awards. The Senate bill does include provisions that the House committee is not considering, such as $25 million for two state funds to help cover doctors' and hospitals' insurance costs.

Some committee members thought they were coming in to vote on a bill. Rep. Julia Howard, a Mocksville Republican who wants a cap, interrupted her family vacation in Florida to attend. Rep. Pete Cunningham, a Charlotte Democrat who opposes a cap, said he received 100 telephone calls leading up to the meeting Thursday.

But the task force chairmen said they wanted members to have more time to think about all the ideas. The aim is to have a recommendations approved by the time the General Assembly returns for its session in May.

Staff writer Lynn Bonner can be reached at 829-4821 or at

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