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In his recent op-ed discussing the malpractice caps in his state of West Virginia, trial attorney Paul Farrell Jr. likens the caps to protections for drunk drivers.

“Protecting bad doctors is akin to protecting drunk drivers,” he says. “Reducing the punishment for driving drunk only encourages repeat offenders. It is how we punish wrongdoers that keeps them from hurting us again.”

He’s quite right. In a very real way, malpractice caps do not protect good doctors from lawsuits or wrongly deserved punishment. Rather, by lowering the possible fines a bad doctor will have to pay for even the most egregious act of negligence, it allows bad doctors to avoid punishments that will significantly affect them.

Do you believe a bad doctor, who makes millions of dollars over a lifetime, is really going to be affected by paying a fine? Especially when the insurance company pays the fine and the only real penalty is a small premium hike? –Paul Farrell Jr.

At the same time, while people might have been led to believe that malpractice caps help protect the public from paying for so-called “frivolous” lawsuits, they often have the reverse, undesired effect of increasing the burden on the public health care system, and thus, the taxpayer. The recent documentary Hot Coffee brought to light a case in Nebrasksa where a boy born with severe, life-altering birth defects as the result of medical negligence will require a lifetime of 24-hour care as a result. While a jury awarded the family enough money to pay the boy’s medical bills for the rest of his life, the medical malpractice cap in the state of Nebraska severely limited the award the family will actually receive. Now, rather than an insurance company that makes billions in profits every year paying for his care, state taxpayers will end up paying for it when the boy is forced onto Medicaid. Just this one malpractice case will cost Nebraska taxpayers millions of dollars. But there are thousands.

So who benefits from malpractice caps? Bad doctors and insurance companies. When bad doctors benefit, do they become better doctors? No. When insurance companies benefit, do they pass the savings on to you? No.

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