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NO CAP ON MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CLAIMS!

 The Governor and the Legislature announced a budget agreement that preserves New York’s civil justice system for most victims of medical malpractice and protects the rights of victims of medical negligence. This agreement rejects the Medicaid Redesign Team’s proposed $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. While the bill will provide for implementation of the McKeon early settlement program initiated under a federal grant, it is our understanding that no other CPLR changes will be included.

The final budget will include a Neurologically Impaired Infant Fund; however, the Fund contains some improvements from the original proposal in order to protect the rights of disabled infants and their families. The budget also creates a new New York State Hospital Quality Initiative within the Department of Health. Critically, this initiative will include an Obstetrical Patient Safety Workgroup that we hope will advance many of the patient safety proposals for which we have advocated throughout the debate over the MRT. Over the last two months, we have worked closely with consumer advocates and victims of medical negligence to educate the public and policymakers - including the Governor and his Administration -about the threat to patient safety and the civil justice system as a whole presented by the MRT’s original proposals.

The elimination of caps from the budget was in no small measure the result of NYSTLA members' tireless effort to educate legislators on this issue. Working closely with our partners, we were able to highlight the real life stories of victims of medical negligence, the alarming rates of preventable medical errors in New York’s hospitals, and compel a long overdue discussion about improving patient safety. In the process, we gained the support of policy makers, editorial boards and a broad coalition of civil rights, patients’ rights and consumer groups across the state who joined us in opposing proposals that would have shielded hospitals from responsibility for negligence and limited the ability of victim’s of medical error to seek redress for their injuries.

We continue to have significant concerns about how the Neurologically Impaired Infant Fund will operate in practice, particularly provisions making the fund apply to all pending cases. We plan to remain actively engaged on this issue and will work with policy makers to improve the Fund going forward. We hope to enlist the ongoing cooperative oversight of the Governor and his Administration in making sure that every child injured at birth because of medical negligence receives all care, therapies and assistance which he or she needs to overcome the devastating lifelong impact of such injuries.

Overall, today’s agreement is an affirmation of the critical role our civil justice system plays in protecting consumers and victims of medical negligence, and in creating real incentives for hospitals to improve patient safety.

Of course our work is not done. The best way to limit medical liability costs is for health care providers to do more to prevent negligence in the first place. Throughout this debate we have brought forth   countless case studies and proposals vividly illustrating how New York's healthcare providers can do more to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors. As we move forward, we plan to continue to advocate vigorously for these critical initiatives to improve patient care.

Originally Printed ny the New York state trial Lawyers association March 27th 2011