How Would Tort Reform Impact Disability Benefits?

On Monday, we provided an overview of what tort reform is and what the general arguments are that come from each side. Today we look at how tort reform could have a big impact on people who receive disability benefits and other forms of public assistance.

We travel slightly north to Nebraska for a story that shows what happens when tort reform drastically reduces awards. The Gourley family includes twin sons Colin and Connor. Medical malpractice during the birth of Colin led to his cerebral palsy, which requires a lifetime of support and medical attention. The Gourleys won their medical malpractice lawsuit, with a jury awarding them $5.6 million for Colin’s medical expenses, but Nebraska’s cap on damages reduced that amount to $1.25 million. Colin’s projected medical expenses are $12.4 million, so where does the difference between that and the cap come from?

Colin ended up on Medicaid, as no health care insurers would insure him due to his preexisting condition. The doctor and the medical practice that the jury had found liable had insurance, but after the defendants paid their deductibles, their insurance companies paid the rest of the award up to the cap, leaving the remaining $10 million to the taxpayers who fund Medicaid.

That, of course, is a lot of money, and it adds to the financial difficulties that public benefits programs face. More extensive tort reform would similarly push court awards away from liable parties and onto taxpayers, requiring more and more funding for public benefits programs. When public benefits grow too large, however, it is popular to call for cuts to entitlement programs like Medicaid and Social Security disability benefits, which has grown rapidly in the past 10 years. Cuts to medical malpractice awards then lead to cuts to public benefits, both having the same effect of pushing the costs away from liable parties and onto you and other taxpayers.

Has tort reform impacted you or a loved one? Could you manage if there were cuts to your monthly disability benefits?


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