Proposition 12 is causing quite a controversy. The amendment aims to put a cap on medical malpractice lawsuits in the hopes of saving doctors money on insurance costs, in turn helping patients receive lower medical costs. But attorneys say if this amendment is passed, it will limit the rights of jurors in all civil cases.
Dr. Robert Carr spends thousands of dollars a month on medical malpractice insurance and in the last three years, his premiums have increased 200%. "I have to meet that cost before I can provide benefits to my staff for their healthcare, the number of employees we can afford, or even the care I can provide to patients," says Dr. Carr.
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In fact, he says 4,000 doctors have left their practices in Texas, because they can't afford to pay their malpractice insurance and their employees. That's because healthcare liability claims doubled between 1996 and 2000. Right now, the average award in a malpractice lawsuit is $3.5 million.
Dr. Carr says Proposition 12 will put a $750,000 cap on those lawsuits involving non-economic damages, like pain and suffering or emotional distress. "If there is truly medical negligence, truly a terrible thing that has occured there will still be punitive damages that can be awarded beyond the caps," says Dr. Carr.
But Attorney, Jeffrey Conner calls Proposition 12 unconstitutional and says it takes the right to decide how much someone's pain is worth away from a jury and puts it in the hands of lawmakers. "The legislature has said we do not trust jurors wisdom on that. We have to tell them what the limits on those damges are," says Conner.
The amendment will not only affect malpractice cases, but could also affect other civil suits. Conner says each trial is different and the outcome of each case should be up to the jury. "The juries are the ones who have the clearest access to the evidence who have the ability to look at the witnesses and judge whether they're being truthful or not and decide the merits of the case, not the legislature," says Conner.
Dr. Carr says if Proposition 12 isn't passed, more doctors will practice in other states where they can afford to stay in business. Many of them are already cutting back on the amount of care they provide. "They don't go to the emergency room anymore. They don't do trauma care, don't deliver babies anymore because it's too expensive to get malpractice insurance coverage," says Dr. Carr.
The Texas Medical Association says half of all Texas physicians are forced to reduce services to patients or shun high-risk medical cases.
Election day is September 13th. Early voting continues Friday and runs almost daily through September 9th.