Jury-Award Cap Nixed By Senate

HARRISBURG – The state Senate late last night rejected a plan to limit the dollar amount that juries can award for pain and suffering in less-egregious medical-malpractice cases, but continued to debate a broader proposal to allow the limits to be extended to all civil-liability cases.

The issue of the so called “caps” on the awards had divided the Republican Senate majority for most of the day during closed door negotiations.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, said the proposals would seek to amend a portion of the state constitution that has stood since lawmakers 130 yean ago repealed provisions allowing railroad operators to limit their liability in accidents.

During the day, lobbyists plied the Capitol’s hallways and a lawyer-led demonstration against allowing the caps drew hundreds of people to the building. The issue has prompted major interest groups, from manufacturers to Mothers Against Drunk Driving to take sides.

The proposals call for a constitutional amendment, a process that could take years to complete, and would require voter approval on whether to allow the Legislature to set the limits into law.

Complaints and demonstrations by physicians have given the matter a high profile but some Republicans have adapted it into a wider, pro-business platform, saying that pain-and-suffering awards increase the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania.

Physicians argue that the awards are ballooning their insurance rates and driving their colleagues to practice in other states. In general, Democrats, organized labor, MADD and lawyers’ groups oppose the limits, saying they would curtail the rights of people injured by mistakes or negligence.

Nationally, 24 slates do not have caps on pain-and-suffering damages, while 26 states cap damages, whether in just medical-malpractice cases or all civil suits, according to the National Conference of Slate Legislatures, a research group.

The broadest of the proposals was the same resolution passed by the House last June, which would allow the Legislature to cap pain-and-suffering awards in all civil suits.

The measure, introduced by Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, was being debated late last night. It is supported by the business community, but is opposed by some Republicans and most Democrats.

Greenleaf introduced the narrowest of the proposals, but it failed, 24-26, with ail but one Democrat supporting it.

That approach would have allowed the Legislature to limit pain-and-suffering awards in medical-malpractice cases, but not in cases with “reckless, willful or wanton misconduct,” or in cases of death or serious injury.

One man at yesterday’s rally, Duane Johnson, 58, said he had driven from Philadelphia because he felt such a cap was unfair.

After meeting an industrial-accident victim at the rally – Dan Eife, 42, who has hooks instead of hands after a 1995 accident in Philadelphia – Johnson said the reasons against limiting jury awards were “self-explanatory.”

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