- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - State lawmakers are set to take up a proposal that would increase Indiana’s cap on medical malpractice payments for the first time in 17 years.

The bill scheduled for review by an Indiana Senate committee on Monday would boost the state’s current limits on what malpractice victims could receive by $400,000 to $1.65 million, then allow the cap to increase every four years based on the national inflation rate.

Republican Sen. Brent Steele of Bedford said he’s sponsoring the proposal because he wants to protect the malpractice cap from court challenges.

“There is a real concern that this whole act is going to be declared unconstitutional due to the fact that it no longer addresses the legitimate damages of a claimant in an equitable fashion,” Steele told the Indianapolis Business Journal (https://bit.ly/23k5I0j ).

Steele said he’s trying to find a compromise between physicians and hospitals who are worried about skyrocketing costs and lawyers who represent patients injured or killed because of medical mistakes.

The Indiana State Medical Association isn’t yet supporting the proposal. Association spokeswoman Marilyn Carter said the physicians group is worried the changes could hurt the public’s access to health care.

“These proposed changes come at a time when changes to the regulatory landscape, which each have a cost, are putting physician practices out of business,” she said. “And if they go out of business, or choose to reduce insurance coverage due to cost, it impacts many, many Hoosiers.”

The Illinois Supreme Court struck down a similar law in 2010 that capped jury payouts, ruling they were unconstitutional under the Illinois Constitution’s “separation of powers” clause because juries were not able to determine fair damages. Caps have also been ruled unconstitutional in Alabama, Georgia, Oregon, New Hampshire and Washington.

Opponents in Indiana haven’t been successful, although a Vanderburgh County judge is considering a challenge to the cap from an Evansville couple who won a 2013 jury verdict of $15 million in their malpractice lawsuit over their daughter’s birth that left her a quadriplegic and unable to speak.

The Indiana Trial Lawyers Association believes Steele’s proposal is a “good start,” but that it doesn’t fully address patients’ needs, said attorney Dan Ladendorf, a member of the group’s governing board.

“We believe there should never be a cap on damages,” Ladendorf said. “You are minimizing a person’s responsibility for a harm they’ve caused. That just doesn’t seem like a fair measure of justice.”

The bill has been endorsed by Republicans who control the Indiana Senate, with Senate President Pro Tem David Long saying he believed the cap should be adjusted to meet growing medical expenses.

“The goal is not to punish anyone,” Long said. “It’s to preserve an outstanding law, (and) makes sure it’s modernized to avoid a constitutional attack, which I think it is vulnerable to.”

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Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal, https://www.ibj.com

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