Colorado Senate to vote on raising malpractice caps

by Bob Mook Denver Business Journal

A proposal to raise caps in medical malpractice lawsuits is scheduled to be heard by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Monday.

Senate Bill 164, sponsored by Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver and Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, would raise the caps for non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering) in medical malpractice cases to match those in other types of damage cases. The current cap in medical malpractice cases for non-economic losses is $300,000; in general liability cases it’s $366,000, but that figure is scheduled to be inflation-adjusted this year.

The bill also proposes that whatever the new cap in medical malpractice cases turns out to be, that it be subject to potential doubling, as in general liability cases now, in extreme circumstances if a judge determines it is justified.

Damages for physical impairment or disfigurement, previously considered as non-economic damages will be considered as economic damages under the bill — with a cap of $1 million. Under current law, judges can override the caps for economic losses if they determine the patients losses exceed $1 million. The bill does not change that provision.

Doctors and malpractice insurers worry that raising the caps on malpractice claims could increase medical costs by raising the rates for medical malpractice insurance and possibly drive some physicians out of the market.

But supporters, including trial lawyers, say the legislation merely increases non-economic losses to the level of non-medical liability cases. They also say the proposal would give patients who suffer impairment or disfigurement from careless medical procedures better compensation.

Supporters of the bill say doctors’ claims that raising malpractice caps significantly contribute to the rising costs of health care or cause physicians to abandon their practices are unfounded.

Groff, who is president of the Senate, has said he carried the legislation because he believes the current medical malpractice system is unfair.

‘The caps haven’t been adjusted for almost a decade and this isn’t about trial lawyers or insurance companies — it’s about justice for the victims,” Groff said regarding an earlier draft of the bill late January.

The bill will be heard Feb. 18 at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Committee Room 353 in the state Capitol.
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