"Unconstitutional" and "Dangerous": Injured Patients and Second Supreme Court Justice Speak Out Against New NC Bill

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At Public Hearing, Sens. Apodaca, Brown and Rucho Hear Of Woman Who Lost Breasts To A Mistake, Two Supreme Court Justices Opposed To Cap

A new bill designed to limit the rights of patients injured by medical malpractice is dangerous because it puts patients at risk, according to a bipartisan group that shared stories and opinions at a public hearing, as well as unconstitutional.

Retired NC Supreme Court Justice Edward Thomas Brady submitted a letter to the committee considering Senate Bill 33, including sponsors Senators Tom Apodaca, Harry Brown and Bob Rucho.

“I ask you to remember the importance of the right to a civil jury and the right our citizens have to full compensation when they have been injured through the negligent acts of another,” wrote Brady, a conservative Republican. “We have a duty to uphold the Constitution, and it is on that basis that I ask you to oppose Senate Bill 33.”

Justice Brady’s opinion backs that of retired NC Supreme Court Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., another conservative Republican, who has called the cap “unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

Most Vulnerable

SB-33 sets an arbitrary cap of $250,000 on medical malpractice damages for disfigurement, mutilation, loss of limb, paralysis, pain, suffering and death. The arbitrary cap on damages would be especially devastating for injured children, homemakers, and the elderly, who have limited economic damages.

Kym Brown was an active and fit 48-year-old when her doctor diagnosed her with breast cancer. Eventually she had both breasts removed. Later, her doctor told her she had been misdiagnosed. Her slides had been mixed up with those of another patient. Kym never had cancer.

In a letter delivered today to Sen. Apodaca, Kym wrote: “I find it hard to believe that you or any other senator would consider $250,000 to be adequate compensation for what I have lost. Why are you rewarding those who are careless, and rewarding those who are harmed?”

Martha Walden’s mother died of hypothermia – in a nursing home. A state investigation of her mother’s death found the nursing home had “violated simple safety measures.” In a letter to legislators, Martha wrote, “When my mother froze to death, she had no ‘economic’ damages. Her damages for pain, suffering, terror and death are all ‘non-economic.’ I do not know the fair amount of those damages. My plan is to ask a jury that question.”

Patients at Risk

Dick Taylor of the NC Advocates for Justice presented data showing that SB 33 is a misguided solution to a problem that does not exist:

  • medical malpractice cases have sharply declined in North Carolina
  • premiums are low
  • doctors are flocking to the state.

Meanwhile, a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that 4,000 patients die and 5,700 patients are permanently injured in North Carolina hospitals every year because of preventable medical mistakes.

In a surprise to some, Charlotte defense attorney Scott Stevenson wrote in a letter to lawmakers: “While it may appear antithetic that a defense attorney would oppose this tort reform bill … Any attempts to meddle with the current system, I firmly believe will work to the detriment of all North Carolina citizens.”

Copies of the packet patient advocates submitted to the committee are available upon request.

For more information, please contact todd(at)ncaj(dot)com, and visit http://www.letjuriesdecide.com.


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Todd Barlow
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