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Legislative Update: I’ve Got Good News, and I’ve Got Bad News

If you’ve been reading this blog recently, you know that we at Leone Noble & Seate, L.L.P. have been following several bills in the North Carolina General Assembly that could impact your legal rights when you are harmed by another’s wrongdoing. The legislature has wrapped up their session and will go back to work on July 21, 2011. It’s time for the good news, and the bad news on these bills.

SB 33: Medical Liability Reforms

The Bad News: This bill passed both the Senate and the House in the General Assembly after numerous amendments. In its original form, it  legalized negligence in emergency rooms, and denied catastrophically injured people a just recovery by a verdict of their peers. Two former Republican NC Supreme Court Justices said this is unconstitutional because the legislature cannot interfere with each North Carolinian’s right to a fair jury trial or overrule jury verdicts. Among other things, this bill included a cap on noneconomic damages of $500,000.00.

The Good News: Governor Perdue vetoed SB 33 on Friday, June 24, 2011.

The Yet to Be Seen: Governor Perdue issued the following statement when vetoing the bill:

“I am strongly committed to passing meaningful medical malpractice reform.  Doctors, hospitals and nursing homes in North Carolina are all being burdened by medical malpractice insurance rates that are too high.

By working together, we enacted meaningful changes to our tort law (H.B. 542) and our worker’s compensation system (H.B. 709) this year.  We can achieve real medical malpractice reform as well.  I commend the legislature for addressing this important issue but, in its current form, the bill is unbalanced.  I urge legislators to modify the bill when the General Assembly returns in July to protect those who are catastrophically injured.  Once the bill is revised to adequately protect those that are catastrophically injured, I will proudly sign it into law.  I pledge to continue working with the General Assembly to achieve a comprehensive, bipartisan consensus.”

It is too early to predict whether medical liability reform will be revived in the General Assembly’s short session or in future sessions, and what form it will take.

HB 542: Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses

The Bad News: On June 24, 2011, Governor Perdue signed HB 542 into law in a defeat for the legal rights of North Carolina citizens and taxpayers for the benefit of Wall Street greed. In signing the bill, Governor Perdue stated, “House Bill 542 will ensure that when an accident happens, the laws in North Carolina both protect those injured and also prevent undue or disproportionate penalties from being imposed upon our companies. This law helps strike a fair and delicate balance.”  We must respectfully disagree.  This law will  make insurance companies more profitable at the expense of innocent victims of wrongdoing, and contains measures that will make it more difficult for victims to obtain justice.

The Good News: The version of HB 542 that was signed into law by the Governor was significantly better than the bill’s original form. While it still has far-reaching and negative consequences for victims, it could have been far worse.  The most significant change to the bill was the removal of the controversial provision that would have granted immunity to drug companies when their products were shown to kill or otherwise harm individuals if they had government approval.

Be sure to check back on this blog frequently as we will continue to update you on legislative changes that could impact your rights when you have been harmed by someone else. For a more detailed history of these bills and the tort reform debate in North Carolina, please be sure to check out our past posts on the topic (listed in chronological order):

Thinking Caps (Jun. 2, 2010)

The U.S. Chamber Pot (Dec. 22, 2010)

Lessons in Frivolity (Dec. 28, 2010)

Like A Good Neighbor (Mar. 18, 2011)

Help Us In Defending Your Rights (Mar. 30, 2011)

North Carolinians for Affordable Health Care (May 11, 2011)

Are Lawsuits Such A Bad Thing Afterall? (May 12, 2011)

NC HB 542: You Ask, I Answer (May 18, 2011)

NC HB 542 Legislative Update: Keep Heping Us in Defending Your Rights (May 31, 2011)

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his own. Nothing in this blog post should be construed to provide any legal advice to any individual. The author also recommends the documentary Hot Coffee to anyone interested in the tort reform debate. It aired on HBO last night at 9:00 p.m. and will be available for DVD this fall.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Joe Plaintiff June 29, 2011, 3:37 pm

    House Bill 542 is a complete disaster for plaintiff’s in North Carolina. I’m surprised there has not been ALOT more noise about this among the plaintiff’s bar. Lets say I have shoulder surgery and miss a years worth of work and have 100K in medical bills. But I used my Medicare to take care of it and Medicare only pays 10K and the rest is written off by my providers. I now only get to tell a jury I had 10K in medical bills. Even though they shouldn’t, juries put a great deal of stock in the medical bills. If you were told one person had 100K in bills and the other 10K would you think the guy with 100K was likely hurt more and therefore worthy of more compensation than the 10K guy? And of course this is going to trickle down into settlement offers which will start getting a LOT lower for cases where people have to use their health insurance to get treatment and/or protect their credit while they wait for the accident case to settle. The Insurance companies got a major victory.

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