North Carolina Medical Malpractice Reform Laws Explained

This week Senate Bill 33 passed through committee and hit the North Carolina Senate floor – much to the disappointment of many health and safety advocates, many Democrats, and even a number of Republicans. While some say that the new medical malpractice reforms proposed in the bill will save money and attract more medical professionals to the state, others say that it takes away patient rights, doesn’t make doctors accountable for their mistakes, and is even unconstitutional.

There are two major changes to medical malpractice laws that would take place in North Carolina if the bill is passed:

  1. A cap would be placed on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. If the bill goes into law, a $500,000 limit will be placed on medical malpractice compensation that is non-economic. Although there will be no limit on how much a medical malpractice victim can collect for medical bills, lost wages, and loss of future income, there will be a limit on how much a person can collect when it comes to pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or disfigurement.
  2. Emergency room doctors would be protected from a number of medical malpractice lawsuits. The new medical malpractice reform bill would protect those working in North Carolina emergency rooms from being sued for simple negligence, with supporting lawmakers saying that ER doctors are often under stress, overwhelmed, and making split-second decisions to save lives. Instead ER doctors could only be sued for medical malpractice if it involves gross negligence or intentionally harming patients through their actions. Opponents of the bill warm that this could mean that those who are seriously harmed by medical mistakes in the emergency room could no longer receive any kind of compensation for their medical bills and injuries.

Republicans who are backing the bill stress that these med mal reforms will save the state money while encouraging doctors to practice in North Carolina (because medical malpractice insurance would be more affordable here). But others say that the bill is a severe blow to patients’ rights – and that it would basically make ER doctors immune to taking responsibility for their mistakes. Many believe that the cap on non-economic compensation is not constitutional and will be struck down in court, as it has in several other states.