Indiana is going to have to wait a little longer for reform to its medical malpractice laws. A proposal in the legislature that many had expected to sail smoothly toward approval was suddenly pulled by its sponsor in committee during the last week of January.
The law would have made several changes to how medical malpractice law suits are handled in the state. The most well-known (and least controversial) change would have been an increase to the current cap on damage awards. The cap, first put in place in 1975, has only been changed twice since then, the last time in 1999 when it was raised to $1.25 million. The new proposal would have lifted this an additional $400,000 to $1.65 million.
A Need for Reform
Senate Bill 152, sponsored by the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford), included several provisions. Raising the cap was seen as important, because some argue that it’s already falling far behind what should be considered a reasonable amount: simply adjusting for inflation would require resetting the 1999 limit to about $2.2 million.
In addition to increasing the malpractice damage cap, the bill also would have instituted a mechanism to raise the cap automatically in future years, based on the consumer price index. It also would have tweaked the current medical review panel process, which is currently required for any claim over $15,000; future claims up to $75,000 could have been filed without review. Participants (parties, lawyers, and medical review panelists) who fail to act as required could have been penalized. Finally, the bill would have changed the allowed percentage of an award which could be used to pay legal fees.
It had been reported several months before that the various stakeholders in the legislation had already moved close to agreement on the various provisions. One of the reasons reform has been sought is that several laws in other states which are similar to Indiana’s malpractice cap have been declared unconstitutional in recent years. A similar proposal had been made in the previous legislative session, but had failed.
When he withdrew the bill, Senator Steele noted that the stakeholders had never reached a final agreement on the details of the bill, but he put the blame for the failure on himself. With other work competing for attention, there may not have been enough time to hammer out all the particulars of Senate Bill 152. “In a short session, there are just some things you can’t get done,” Steele said. With this issue receiving more attention each year, it’s very likely that a similar bill will be back on the agenda for the next session.
Understand the Medical Malpractice System
The details of Indiana’s medical malpractice system matter. They might not affect most people directly as individuals until they need to seek redress for negligence or a medical error. Ultimately, however, they are an important indicator of how we as a society choose to value life and physical well-being, as well as how we balance the rights of patients and their families against the professional deference granted to medical professionals. It’s widely accepted that Indiana’s system has done a reasonably good job protecting physicians from excessive claims and holding down certain costs while at the same time making sure that patients receive the compensation they deserve.
If you or a family member has been harmed by an episode of medical malpractice, one of the most important first steps is to discuss the situation with a qualified attorney. At the law firm of Wilson Kehoe Winingham, we have experience with medical malpractice law. Call us today at 317-920-6400 or contact us online for a free consultation to discuss your case.