Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX) recently reintroduced the Medical Justice Act (H.R. 896) (the "Act") to the House Judiciary Committee. The Act was previously introduced in 2007 and 2009. According to a press release from Representative Burgess's office, the Act, if passed, will improve patient access to doctors by putting an end to unnecessary lawsuits brought about by trial lawyers.
H.R. 896, as introduced, provides for the following caps on non-economic damages: (i) $250,000 for actions against health care practitioners; (ii) $250,000 for actions against any single health care institutions; and (iii) $500,000 for actions against any class of health care institutions. H.R. 896 mandates a cap of $1,400,000 for total damages against any single health care practitioner for a wrongful death case, which may be adjusted for inflation starting on the calendar year after the calendar year of enactment of the Act. The term "total damages" includes compensatory damages, punitive damages, statutory damages, and any other type of damages.
The Act also provides, amongst other things, the following:
- A jury may not award punitive or exemplary damages unless the jury is unanimous with regard to both the liability and the amount of damages.
- Rejecting a reasonable settlement offer within policy limits does not, by itself, create liability for an insurer in excess of the policy limits.
- Defendants will only be liable for their proportionate share of the total damages that directly corresponds to that their proportionate share of the total responsibility, i.e., joint and several liability will not apply.
- With regard to civil procedure, the Act requires plaintiffs to submit a qualified expert report. For physician-related opinions, the Act requires that any such expert witness be an actively practicing physician.
- A statute of limitations for individuals aged 12 and over as follows: 2 years after the negligence occurred or 2 years after the health care on which the claim is based is completed. For individuals under the age of 12, the claim must be brought before the individual attains the age of 14 years. The statute of limitations may be tolled if applicable law so provides, except that it may not be tolled on the basis of minority.
- A statute of repose that requires the claim to be brought within 10 years after the act or omission on which the claim is based is completed. The statute of repose may not be tolled for any reason.
Because they are now in the majority, House Republicans may be able to garner broader support for the Act than in prior years. We will continue to monitor the progress of H.R. 896 as it makes it way through Congress.