Posted on Mar 14, 2011
In Georgia, it can be difficult for medical malpractice victims to succeed in collecting damages, but a new piece of legislation has been introduced by a Georgia Congressman that could make it even tougher.

U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey (R--11th District) is the primary sponsor of a new bill which would set stricter time limitations on filing malpractice lawsuits against medical professionals. The legislation, officially called the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011, also would limit the amount of damages awarded if a medical malpractice case goes in the victim's favor.

Gingrey, a former obstetrician, was involved in a $500,000 medical malpractice lawsuit which was settled out of court in 2007. His personal experience and first-hand knowledge of malpractice lawsuits were factors in his decision to sponsor the new bill, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If passed, the bill would cap damages at $250,000 for successful medical malpractice claims.

The legislation would also prohibit punitive damages from being awarded in claims against drug manufacturers and makers of medical devices and other FDA-approved products.

Gingrey, who is co-chair of the House GOP Doctors' Caucus, has consistently advocated for the limitation of medical malpractice awards. If the legislation is passed as it currently stands, a medical malpractice claim would, from that point forward, need to be filed within one year of the appearance of the patient's injury. Currently, each state has its own statute of limitations for filing medical malpractice claims.

Various amendments to the bill have been proposed which would lessen the bill's restrictions on medical malpractice claims and awards, but none have been added. Despite this, concerns remain for some that the bill does not respect states' rights on the issue. Certain states' constitutions specifically ban the capping of liability claims, including Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. If the current form of the bill is passed, these states would have to abide by the new law.

On February 16, 2011, the House Judiciary Committee approved Gingrey's bill. The legislation will now move to the House floor for final consideration, though a date for this has not yet been set.