It may seem hard to believe, but medical malpractice and negligence are blamed for more than 250,000 deaths annually in the United States, by some estimates. That is third behind only heart disease and cancer. However, in North Carolina, lawsuits relating to medical malpractice and negligence had plummeted since 2011, when North Carolina lawmakers passed Senate Bill 33. This new law proposes stricter guidelines on the discovery process in an attempt to eliminate “frivolous lawsuits.” Additionally, it creates caps on damages awarded to plaintiffs who are successful in a medical malpractice or medical negligence lawsuit.
In 2010, there were 683 medical malpractice lawsuits filed in North Carolina. The following year, that number plummeted to only 238. That is a decrease of more than 65%. That number has not risen to over 314 since when the previous low for this century (pre-2011) was 438. The fact that the 683 medical malpractice suits for 2010 were at an all-time high prompted the change. Lawmakers and lobbyists looked into the statistics and saw that the medical professionals being sued needed a better standard of fairness in cases of liability. After heated debate from both sides, Senate Bill 33 went into effect on October 1, 2011.
While Senate Bill 33 is most infamous for capping rewards for noneconomic damages (i.e. pain and suffering, emotional distress), where it made its biggest impact was in the discovery portion of the litigation process. Formerly, juries would see the extent of the damage caused by the doctor or health professional and then would be asked whether or not the doctor or health professional was negligent. This process was reversed by Senate Bill 33. Now, the jury must be given a clear definition of negligence and must decide whether or not the physician acted negligently before reviewing the extent of the damage. This acts as a major deterrent to lawsuits during the discovery period.
Additionally, “frivolous lawsuits” were intended to be weeded out by enforcing more stringent guidelines for expert testimony, as well as having experts in the discovery period reviewing all relevant and reasonably attainable medical records. When potential plaintiffs see the potential mountain of the litigation process in front of them and that the courts seem to be on the side of the physicians, it seems like a lost cause.
It is understandable that the legal process of medical malpractice or medical negligence suit could be intimidating or downright terrifying to some, but it isn’t to us. If you have suffered injury because a doctor or health professional did not fulfill their duty of care, contact Tatum Law Firm. We have experience dealing with medical malpractice laws in North Carolina and are willing and ready to fight for your due justice. Contact us today for a free consultation. We also offer 24/7 online help, so you are free to get the help you need even after our Charlotte offices have closed for the day. We are not intimidated by Senate Bill 33, and you don’t have to be either. Contact us today!