Over the past several months, we have voiced concern on this blog about the state of Indiana and the limits the state’s politicians placed on medical malpractice judgments. First passed in 1975, Indiana currently limits any legal settlement or verdict resulting from a healthcare provider’s errors to $1.25 million dollars. This cap is in place regardless of the severity of an injury or disability, regardless of outstanding medical bills and regardless of the cost future care. If a parent is killed due to a simple diagnostic error and leaves behind a family who relied on his or her income, the family cannot receive more than $1.25 million. If a baby suffers a brain injury during birth because a hospital failed to properly monitor the baby’s vital signs, that child is limited to receiving $1.25 million to cover future care that is often costs ten times that amount.
For these very reasons, Indiana’s medical malpractice caps have been very controversial. Families, whose lives are forever changed through no fault of their own, find themselves facing financial hardship or even in poverty because of mounting medical bills or an inability to work. Recently, we wrote about one family’s attempt to challenge the constitutionality of Indiana’s caps. Facing mounting criticism from constituents as well as court rulings in several other states (including Illinois) that found low caps unconstitutional because they are unfair to plaintiffs, Indiana’s lawmakers recently took action. As the Indianapolis Star Tribune reports, the Indiana State Senate voted unanimously to raise Indiana’s medical malpractice limits. The proposal is now before Governor Mike Pence who must decide whether to sign the bill into law. If signed, this will represent the first increase in caps on Indiana medical malpractice claims in nearly 20 years.
Senate Bill 28 will increase claim limits in two steps. Under the bill, the current $1.25 million cap will increase to $1.65 million in 2017 and to $1.8 million in 2019. An additional attempt to continue to adjust this cap with the rate of inflation was voted down due in large to strong opposition from the Indiana State Medical Association, a lobbying arm for physicians. In fact, the original aim of the legislation was to raise the cap as high as $2.25 million. This too, was unable to pass legislative muster and was also opposed by the Indiana State Medical Association.
We are happy to see the state acknowledging the need to raise Indiana’s low cap and are hopeful that Governor Pence will sign the measure into law. This increase in liability limits should provide needed relief to families who are devastated by a medical provider’s mistake. The added claim money will also help ease the significant financial burden placed on families facing life altering challenges due to a medical mistake.
At the same time, we remain steadfast in our belief that caps on damages from someone else’s medical negligence are contrary to the core principles of equal justice and fundamental fairness. When a horrible event occurs, and if a jury of our peers believes that another person was negligent and responsible for such an occurrence, the responsible party should do everything in his or her power to help provide for the injured person. While no amount of money can cure a devastating injury, fairness means paying for medical bills, ensuring future medical needs are met and compensating the injured person for lost income, pain and the significant changes to his or her life.
The purpose of our justice system is to hold parties accountable for their wrongs and to compensate victims for their losses. We should not limit a victim’s recovery for these losses. Financial hardship or even bankruptcy should never be the result. The current legislation is a good acknowledgement of the problem. We must, however, continue to be vocal and push towards greater fairness in Indiana’s civil justice system.