Can Tort Reform Be Unconstitutional?

One of the prominent discussions in the halls of Congress over the last few years has been surrounding healthcare, health insurance and a legal concept called tort reform – reforming malpractice cases.

Tort reform deals with malpractice cases and focuses on making these kinds of cases more reasonable for insurance companies, hospitals and others who get involved in these cases. It has been hotly debated and has subsequently been tabled each year for several years.

Medical malpractice is a real issue that costs hospitals, doctors and insurance companies billions of dollars every year. When this happens, malpractice insurance becomes more expensive, and doctors and hospitals will cover the costs of the increases by raising their rates on services to patients, which makes healthcare more expensive. And when healthcare is more expensive, health insurance companies raise their rates on families and individuals.

But is limiting malpractice awards a proper way to address reforms? A rural state court is taking on the topic, and the ruling strikes a blow against the idea of tort reform as a potential remedy for ever-increasing medical and healthcare costs.

A state judge in North Dakota recently ruled that a state law limiting malpractice awards is an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment and the state constitution regarding equal protection. The ruling surrounds a case of a woman who suffered a stroke as a result of surgical errors and was awarded $3.5 million in damages.

The North Dakota law limited those damages to $500,000, and the judge cited equal protection by saying that the law adversely impacts those plaintiffs who suffer the most severe injuries. Limiting damages, the judge wrote, discriminates against these kinds of plaintiffs instead of giving them the same rights to damages as other plaintiffs with more minor claims.

The respondent in the case, even after this “win,” is still looking into legal options that may include appealing the award.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.