In March of 2018, an Albuquerque court ruled against a long-standing law which capped medical malpractice recovery limits at $600,000. The law limited the compensation juries could award a plaintiff for pain and suffering and lost wages.
The law, however, did not involve limits for punitive damages and medical bills. An Albuquerque court deemed the law, which has been on the books since the 1990s, unconstitutional.
Good news for plaintiffs. Bad news for providers.
The lack of a cap on damages in medical malpractice cases favors plaintiffs bringing cases against doctors, nurses, chiropractors, pharmacists and other medical staff. Lifting the cap from the area of law also has a downside: The insurance providers who pay these claims will now be paying out larger sums that go above the previous cap of $600,000. Higher payouts mean higher insurance premiums for doctors and others who must carry medical malpractice insurance.
What makes a law unconstitutional?
Whether or not any law will withstand the constitutionality test of the New Mexico courts depends on several factors, including:
- Is the law random? If the law is not random or arbitrary, the law should be created for a specific purpose.
- Does the law meet a specific legislative goal such as reducing frivolous lawsuits?
Why does medical malpractice coverage exist?
Without medical malpractice insurance, a provider could go bankrupt after facing just one lawsuit for malpractice.
- To pay for claims brought against a medical provider who has made mistakes in care and treatment.
- To protect providers from the risk of excessive payouts directly for making mistakes during practicing medicine.
- To compensate victims of medical malpractice for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering from a medical mistake incident.
Physicians are an aging population
According to a report called "The Aging Physician Workforce: A Demographic Dilemma" by Merritt Hawkins, a physician staffing firm and recruiter, 33.3% of physicians in New Mexico are over age 60. Many are nearing retirement or retiring earlier. New Mexico has the same challenge as states across the country face: How can they attract and retain medical providers? Less risk of frivolous lawsuits or capping medical malpractice damages may have been one way for New Mexico to attract physicians to their workforce. But now with those limits gone, time will tell how this may affect healthcare in New Mexico in the future.