Caps on noneconomic damages promote greater access to health care

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Sept. 21, 2011 - The American Medical Association (AMA) joined today with organizations representing Florida physicians, hospitals, small business owners and their insurers to file a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Florida Supreme Court to preserve patients’ access to more affordable medical care by upholding the state’s limit on subjective awards for noneconomic damages.

“The Florida legislature reined in extraordinary noneconomic damages to provide a remedy for the social and economic problems caused by the state’s broken liability system,” said AMA Past President Cecil B. Wilson, M.D., an internist from Winter Park, Fla. “Removing this remedy threatens to undo everything that patients and physicians have gained, including greater predictability in the medical liability system, reduced defensive medicine costs and improved access to critical specialists.”

Noneconomic damages are largely unpredictable sums awarded by juries for unquantifiable emotional issues such as pain and suffering. Under Florida law, patients who have been harmed by true medical negligence can still receive unlimited economic damages for items such as lost wages, medical expenses, and reduced earning potential.

“Florida’s cap on noneconomic damages strikes a reasonable balance between the needs of patients who have been harmed and the needs all Floridians who need affordable, accessible medical care,” said Dr. Wilson.

There is a growing body of research measuring the benefits of medical liability reforms that include caps. In states with noneconomic damage caps, one study found liability premium rates were reduced an average of 17.3 percent for internists, 20.7 percent for general surgeons and 25.5 percent for ob-gyns. In terms of physician supply, another study found the number of physicians in high-risk specialties was between 4 and 7 percent higher in states with caps. Other research determined that rural areas benefit from award limits, specifically in the greater number of surgical and support specialists.

Mistrust of the legal system takes a heavy financial toll on our health care system. A 2010 Gallup Poll of physicians found that 73 percent had practiced defensive medicine in the previous year to protect against potential liability.

“Freeing physicians from the liability system’s culture of fear would help reduce defensive medicine, estimated to cost the nation $70-$126 billion per year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” said Dr. Wilson.

For more information on the effectiveness of caps on noneconomic damages, please view the AMA’s white paper at:

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Media Contact:
Robert J. Mills
AMA Media Relations
(312) 464-5970

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