Iowa Senate panel approves cap on some medical malpractice awards
DES MOINES — Republicans on a committee in the Iowa Senate have approved a bill to set a $1 million cap on non-economic, so-called pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Governor Reynolds has said it’s one of her legislative priorities. Sandra Conlin, a lobbyist for the Iowa Hospital Association, told senators there’s been a tipping point — last spring’s $97 million jury verdict in a medical malpractice claim against an Iowa City hospital and a doctor.
“We are in a place of crisis now,” Conlin said. “There’s been inaction on this issue for several years in a row and we continue to see the consequences of that build up over time.”
Conlin said there are significant rate increases in medical malpractice insurance and lawsuits are being settled for higher amounts. Chip Baltimore, a former Republican legislator, told lawmakers $97 million isn’t “egregious” for the family of the baby boy who will require 24/7 medical care his entire life after his skull “was crushed.” Baltimore is working as a lobbyist for Trial Lawyers for Justice.
“The position of conservatives in this building is that every life, every single life at every stage is priceless,” Baltimore said. “…But you’re about to put a price tag on it and a very small price tag, quite honestly.”
The bill has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with the support of 11 Republicans. Mikayla Brockmeyer of Spirit Lake, a medical student at Des Moines University, told lawmakers many of her classmates are looking to practice elsewhere because of the liability issue.
“We need medical liability reform now and don’t let this slip away,” she said, “along with the doctors in training who are considering other opportunities in other states.”
Sam Clovis, a former Trump Administration official and the Republican Party’s nominee for state treasurer in 2012, is urging lawmakers to kill the bill. Clovis is suing western Iowa health care providers, alleging their negligence has left him paralyzed from the chest down after emergency surgery in 2019.
“We have legislators who think they are smarter than the people sitting in a jury box…they say they protect life and then they turn right around and try to set a value to that,” Clovis said. “That frankly is wrong and it’s immoral.”
Thomas Slater, a West Des Moines attorney, said the rights of patients who’ve been profoundly injured by malpractice need to be protected. “I scratch my head when my party attempts to put an arbitrary cap on the value of life or the quality of that life,” Slater said during a senate subcommittee hearing.
Hospital executives say the new limit on medical malpractice awards would help with recruiting.
“We’ve been trying to recruit an OB/GYN for the last year,” said Erin Muck, CEO of the Crawford County Hospital in Denison. “A lot of people are asking: ‘What is your cap in your state?’ and when you’re telling them there is none, they have no interest anymore.”
If the bill becomes law, Iowans would still be able to sue for larger amounts if the alleged negligence causes significant expenses or monetary losses to an injured patient, but non-economic or “pain and suffering” awards would be limited to a million dollars. Nebraska and South Dakota have a half a million dollar cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Wisconsin’s is $750,000. Missouri’s limit is adjusted annually to account for inflation and it’s nearly $800,000 this year.