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Tennessee Doctors Fight for Extension of Medical Malpractice Caps

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Tennessee physicians are seeking additional protection against the prospect of medical malpractice lawsuits. Their hope is to amend the state constitution to set caps on medical malpractice awards, a process that would take three years, majority approval by the state house and senate and voter approval. The fight is being led by the Tennessee Medical Association.

The Difference Between Economic and Noneconomic Damages

The proposed extension would apply only to noneconomic damages. Economic damages are quantifiable, and refer to things like medical costs and lost wages and loss of earning capacity. This differs from noneconomic damages, which apply to pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of quality of life.

The Proposed Amendment

A 2011 law capped awards at $750,000 or at $1 million for cases involving catastrophic injuries or losses. This law was deemed unconstitutional by a Tennessee judge, but this has not been heard in front of the state Supreme Court.

The Tennessee Medical Association contends that maintaining the cap will help attract and keep good doctors in Tennessee. The cap was just one of the reforms put into effect to protect doctors. Other changes include a requirement for certification by a medical expert and prior notification to a caregiver before filing suit. Both stipulations increase the chances that a claim will be settled out of court. These reforms have also reduced the number of cases filed against practitioners by 40 percent.

The Complications of Award Caps

The reasons for filing medical malpractice suits vary. From misdiagnosis to surgical errors, the implications of an injury caused while under medical care are often drastic. An NPR report cites medical errors as the third leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease and cancer.

Medical malpractice lawyers have expressed concerns that award caps infringe on the right to a trial by jury. With caps in place, peers are unable to make a decision about the impact of a doctor's error and how a patient should be compensated.

It is also suggested by medical malpractice lawyers that the ability to file malpractice suits improves the quality of care for all Tennessee patients. When patients feel intimidated by the challenges of pursuing a medical malpractice case, doctors might be less concerned about the level of care they provide.

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