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NC HB 542 Legislative Update: Keep Helping Us in Defending Your Rights

Here at Leone Noble & Seate, we have committed ourselves to defending your rights. As part of this promise, we have carefully been following two bills currently pending in the North Carolina General Assembly that threaten the rights of North Carolina citizens for the benefit of large Wall Street corporations and profits. While I have long blogged about tort reform in general, my focus has obviously been on these bills that threaten my rights, your rights, and the rights of your friends and family. In our original post on HB 542, entitled, Help Us In Defending Your Rights, we introduced you readers to provisions of the bill and the negative consequences it will have on you and your loved ones. At the end of that post, we asked you to contact your elected representatives in the General Assembly to express your concerns.

Many of you have done so, and so have others all across North Carolina. I am happy to report that your efforts have worked, and numerous changes have been made to these bills to mitigate some of the harm they would do to citizens like you in favor of insurance companies and other large, wealthy corporations. However, there is still work to be done.

Despite the changes that have been made to the original filed bills, there are still key provisions of HB 542 that threaten your rights and the fairness of the civil justice system. These provisions are:

Billed v. Paid. For every North Carolinian injured or killed by someone else’s wrongdoing, the bill would give a credit to the Defendant and their insurance company if the innocent victim bought and paid for their own medical insurance. The bill allows the wrongdoer’s insurance company to reduce the amount they owe the injured victim using the victim’s own insurance. This means that if somebody injures you because of their own carelessness, they will benefit from the insurance you work so hard to pay for even though they have their own insurance designed to cover the very same medical expenses. You can find more information by clicking above and reading my detailed response to a reader’s question concerning this provision.

Limitations on Attorneys’ Fees. This bill provision will make it cost prohibitive for damaged victims to sue on smaller automobile accident cases, and will allow the insurance companies to pay whatever they want on these small cases. Often, in my own experience, insurance companies already offer victims much less than the medical bills the victim incurred even when the fault of their insured is clear. Just because they can. How much worse will this practice get if this legislation is enacted? Limitations on attorneys’ fees may seem like a benign provision, but it will effectively make it cost prohibitive for attorneys to help victims of negligence on smaller cases, leaving those victims to fend for themselves in the civil justice system and at the mercy of the large, wealthy and powerful liability insurance companies.

Immunity for Manufacturers of Dangerous Drugs. This provision has been modified from it’s original version. Originally, this provision applied to all products which had been manufactured in accordance with the terms of approval, license or similar determination of a government agency. The only one of its kind in the country, the provision would have granted immunity to the manufacturers of virtually every product in your household when the manufacturer committed wrongdoing in its manufacture as long as a government agency approved it. The provision in the bill has now been modified to apply only to pharmaceuticals. Michigan is the only other state in the country to have implemented similar tort reform measures, and it has cost the taxpayers of that state many millions of dollars in favor of billion dollar drug companies. We believe that such immunity will not only strip injured consumers of their legal rights, but will also cost the taxpayers of North Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Attorney General Roy Cooper agrees, stating, “North Carolina taxpayers and consumers could lose millions in legal settlements won because of illegal drug marketing and other violations if House Bill 542 becomes law … North Carolina could become only the second state in the country where pharmaceutical manufacturers could be allowed to do or say anything about a drug as long as it has basic FDA approval.”  In the past 10 years, the Attorney General’s office has recovered for North Carolina taxpayers more than $400 million through its Medicaid investigations unit, many of that from settlements with pharmaceutical companies. This would no longer occur if HB 542 becomes law.

Justice and one’s civil liberties continue to be in jeapardy for every citizen in North Carolina. Please take a moment to contact your elected officials and remind them that they work for you, the citizens, and that you feel that fairness and justice should win in this State over corporate profits and campaign contributions. Your efforts thus far have made a difference, and continued conversations with your elected representatives will continue to make even more of a difference.

The North Carolina House is scheduled to vote on HB 542 on Wednesday, June 1, 2011, and it’s possible that the law could make its way to Governor Perdue’s desk for her consideration. It is imperative that you act now if you favor justice and fairness for all citizens over Wall Street profits and greed. Please click here to take action now!


Disclaimer: The views of the author are his own. Nothing in this blog post should be construed as providing legal advice to any specific individual. This blog post is intended to cover some of the many harmful provisions of HB 542. There is another bill, SB 33, which deals specifically with medical malpractice and caps of non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. For more information on SB 33, visit the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and LetJuriesDecide.com.

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