A bill known as the Protecting Access to Care Act, or PACA, recently passed a vote in the House of Representatives and has moved on to the Senate for a future vote.
Despite the bill’s name, what it actually does (among other things) is place a limit on the “noneconomic” damages that can be awarded for medical malpractice cases at a federal level. In New York State, there is no cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, which means this federal law could override the state law in some instances.
What Are Noneconomic Damages?
In a civil lawsuit, awarded money usually comes in two different types: economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are things that can be easily and clearly expressed in financial value. For example, if a car is damaged in a crash and it costs $2,000 to repair it, that cost would be an economic damage.
In contrast, noneconomic damages are things that do not have a clear value placed upon them. For example, if the driver of the car that needed $2,000 in repairs suffered serious psychological trauma from the accident, resulting in depression and ultimately causing him to get a divorce, those things have a noneconomic value. That kind of pain and suffering cannot easily be valued, but it may be the direct result of an accident or injury.
Who Is Impacted?
In general, the people most impacted by this type of cap are women, children, and the poor. Women, for example, are typically paid less than men, which means their economic damages from missed time at work or future earnings are often less than what a man might be awarded. Similarly, children often have more noneconomic damages since they do not have jobs, and their pain and suffering is difficult to quantify. Anyone who works a job with a low income is typically awarded a low amount for missed employment. But ultimately, any person who can suffer pain and anguish due to medical malpractice is impacted by this law.
What Can I Do?
Since the bill has already passed in the House, the only course of action is to encourage Senators to fight against H.R.1215. The people of New York have chosen to not have a cap on noneconomic damages; yet federal law could override this if this bill passes in the Senate. In the meantime, if you or a loved one has been injured by medical malpractice, call us at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, at (212) 986-7353 to discuss your case.