State House Republicans who crafted a sweeping bill that would have given near blanket immunity from liability for virtually any product that had been approved by regulators have backed off.
Today they presented a scaled-back bill to the House Select Committee on Tort Reform that narrows the protection to only FDA-approved drugs. The rewritten bill also caps noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases to $500,000. The bill originally set the limit at $250,000 from each defendant.
The proposal still has several controversial provisions, including making it extremely hard to sue emergency-room doctors, limiting the amount of money plaintiffs could collect in punitive damages, and allowing juries to know how much of a plaintiff’s medical expenses have been paid.
Another change, made by the committee today, would allow separate trials in civil cases to determine if someone is liable and then how much they should pay in damages, in cases where more than $150,000 in damages is sought.
An attempt by Durham Democratic Rep. Larry Hall to remove the cap on noneconomic damages in cases of severe bodily harm failed. Hall and several fellow Democrats sought to limit the cap to damages awarded for pain and suffering but not for injuries such as disfigurement.
But Rep. Johnathan Rhyne, a Lincolnton Republican who is the main author of the bill and co-chairman of the tort reform committee, aid the cap “right-sizes damages” and helps prevent insurance costs from escalating. Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a Democrat from Cary, said the goal shouldn’t be to “right-size” the amount of jury awards. She noted that state law already prevents someone from collecting damages if they are even slightly at fault.
“We’re talking about a human being…,” Weiss said. This bill, she said, would “protect the person who is fully at fault.”
The committee spent nearly two hours working through the first of more than two dozen proposed amendments to the bill, and they will resume next Thursday.