How has tort reform changed medical malpractice in Texas?

Before major tort reform was enacted in Texas in 2003, medical malpractice lawsuits used to work like any other civil lawsuit in Texas: jurors and a judge would sit and evaluate and hear the evidence and then weigh it based on the law and provide adequate compensation for the losses and harms. Like any other Texas civil lawsuit, there were no “caps” or limits on a patient’s pain and suffering; however, the argument was made that high medical malpractice insurance claims were forcing doctors to either retire early or leave the state.

In 2003, groups backed by insurance companies helped persuade the Texas Legislature to convince voters via constitutional amendment to cap non-economic (“pain and suffering”) damages for victims of medical malpractice at $250,000 and $100,000 at certain public hospitals. Tort reform protects defendants with deep pockets and insurance companies which ultimately end up paying these claims.

The caps on damages takes away the power of the jury and their ability to determine what is right—if a jury wants to punish a hospital or doctor with a verdict of millions of dollars to be paid for pain and suffering, the judge must reduce the verdict down to $250,000. However, damages for past and future medical expenses, lost wages and future earning capacity, and future life care are not capped. The end result is that if a homemaker or retired person or child (i.e., someone who doesn’t work outside the house and get paid), is a victim of medical malpractice, his or her damages are severely limited. In other words, if your child or retired parent dies as a result of medical malpractice at a nursing home or hospital, the lawsuit is basically limited to $250,000. The saying goes, it’s cheaper for the hospital to kill you than keep you alive if malpractice occurs—because keeping you alive can cost the hospital millions of dollars of future care in a lawsuit.

It was originally thought that tort reform would bring down health costs because doctors
would cut down on unnecessary testing and insurers would lower their malpractice premiums. In the years following the passing of the 2003 Texas tort reform measures, malpractice premiums decreased 46 percent, but guess what, these savings were not passed on to patients. The tort reform measures were also supposed to decrease healthcare premiums, and this has not happened either. Despite being the second largest state by population, Texas ranks last in the terms of quality of care according to the federal government. Access to doctors in many smaller communities is also still a huge problem. Reading this, I was not okay with all these facts. From what I read, all tort reform has really done is make it harder to hold wrongdoers accountable for their errors and malpractice. Therefore, it is so important that when you see medical malpractice issues on the voting ballot, that you read about them, educate yourself, and vote for what would protect you and your family members. Your vote matters.

Many Texas lawyers will not handle medical malpractice cases because of the caps on damages. Often it may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars just to prosecute a medical malpractice lawsuit, not including the lawyers’ fees—the insurance companies knew this—that, is why the cap on damages prevents many lawyers from bringing legitimate lawsuits for retired people, children, or non-working people. It is a real tragedy and travesty of justice.

Thomas & Wan, LLP can help answer all your questions if medical malpractice has caused suffering to you or a family member. All hope is not lost. A lot of work goes into preparing a medical malpractice case and we want people to understand the caps and how that has changed the course of malpractice in Texas. Thomas & Wan, LLP is dedicated to helping you or your family member, so please call us to discuss your potential case today.

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