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Tort Reform for North Carolina?

North Carolina is one step closer to a view of tort reform that would take away many rights now enjoyed by North Carolina citizens for the last 150 years. The state House of Representatives and Senate recently passed the Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses bill that would place severe restrictions on all who have been injured due to the negligence of others.

The major change that is part of the new law addresses emergency medical conditions. Patients who need treatment for emergency medical conditions (not just in the emergency room) would face several virtually insurmountable challenges if they wish to file a medical malpractice claim. For such a claim to be successful, victims must prove the medical professional violated standards of care by presenting clear and convincing evidence, a very high evidentiary standard. Many believe this would require proof of intentional wrongdoing. This would make it extremely difficult to recover compensation for any victim of medical malpractice.

Legislators also addressed caps on punitive damages in medical malpractice cases. The bill limits recovery of punitive damages to $500,000. However, if the judge or jury determines that the medical professional acted in a manner that was grossly negligent, intentional or with reckless disregard for the safety of others, punitive damages may exceed $500,000. Additionally, if the victim was disfigured, suffered the loss of a body part or killed by the actions of the doctor, the cap will also not apply.

The bill is currently awaiting the signature and / or veto of Governor Beverly Perdue. If signed, the law will take effect in October 2011. If vetoed the House of Representative could override the veto with a 60% majority. It is unknown what Governor Perdue will do nor whether the Republican majority in House of Representatives will be successful in overriding her veto should she elect to do so.