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NC General Assembly Strips Patients Rights

  • Synopsis: Published: 2011-06-12 - A person who is disfigured or has lost the use of limb will not be able to recover more than an arbitrary amount for those injuries except in extremely unlikely circumstances. For further information pertaining to this article contact: NC Advocates for Justice.
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NC General Assembly Strips Patients' Rights, Leaves All North Carolinians at Risk, Say Patient Advocates - GOP Leadership Hands Malpractice Windfall to Corporations.

The NC General Assembly on Thursday approved rules that strip away patients' rights, said the NC Advocates for Justice, and leave everyone less safe.

Among its provisions, SB33 imposes a one-size-fits-all cap on damages in malpractice cases resulting in mutilation, loss of limbs, blindness and other preventable injuries.

The bill - sponsored by Sens. Tom Apodaca, Harry Brown and Bob Rucho - passed after a conference report diluted measures inserted by the NC House to somewhat protect patients' rights. The House had moved to exempt disfigurement, death, permanent injury and loss of use of the body from the arbitrary $500,000 cap.

The conference report kept the exemption in name only - requiring the injured person to prove the party in the wrong acted with gross negligence, reckless indifference, malice, fraud, or intentional conduct. For all practical purposes, most patients could not prove those things and would not fall under a cap exception.

"The bottom line is that a person who is disfigured or has lost the use of limb will not be able to recover more than an arbitrary amount for those injuries except in extremely unlikely circumstances," said Dick Taylor of the NCAJ. "The GOP-led vote is a boon to insurance companies, an injustice to injured patients and a danger to everyone who seeks care."

The one-size-fits-all cap will benefit corporations such as insurance companies, Taylor added, some of which are openly boasting of record profits.

Unconstitutional Cap

Two conservative former NC Supreme Court justices have said the arbitrary cap would violate the sacred rights of North Carolinians. Former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., a conservative icon, called the proposed cap "unnecessary as well as unconstitutional."

Doctors, too, are troubled by the bill's lack of fairness. In a letter to lawmakers, Dr. John Faulkner, a physician who's wife was burned in a preventable operating room fire, wrote, "No one can put a 'cap' on my wife's pain and disfigurement - so how can the legislature put a cap on what it's worth... Why do you think it's fairer for legislators to decide, rather than juries"

Dr. Martin Brooks, an award-winning physician with a career spanning 50 years, has advised legislators that an arbitrary cap on damages for severely injured patients "will reduce the quality of medical care given to the people of North Carolina."

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