U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Case Involving Medical Malpractice Awards
January 31, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- On January 8, 2013 the Supreme Court of the U.S. heard oral arguments in a case involving state governments' rights to collect portions of patients' medical malpractice claim recoveries if states have expended Medicare funds on treating the patients. South Carolina and 10 other states are supporting the position that states can recover funds from patients, and the way the Court decides Delia v. E.M.A. could have a huge impact on victims of medical malpractice across the country.
Medical malpractice settlement
On February 25, 2000 a doctor delivered a baby at Catawba Valley Medical Center in North Carolina via caesarian section. There were complications during the birth, leaving the baby blind, deaf and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. In 2003, the parents sued the hospital and the doctor, alleging that the doctor had been abusing prescription drugs while he delivered their daughter.
The doctor had a history of drug abuse problems and had forged prescriptions to get pills. The doctor had surrendered his medical license later in 2000, but denied being impaired when he delivered the baby. The parents settled with the healthcare providers in 2006 for $2.6 million.
State's claim to funds
North Carolina officials put a lien on one-third of the settlement funds, equaling about $933,333.33. The state alleged that it had spent $1.9 million in Medicaid funds treating the girl since her birth, and state law allows the state to recover from patients who receive Medicaid funds and subsequently obtain medical malpractice settlements. The law says that the state can either take the full amount of Medicaid funds it spends or one-third of the patient's total settlement. The state claimed that it chose to put a lien for one-third of the settlement rather than the full amount because of the size of the total settlement and the amount it had spent in Medicaid funds.
Conflict with federal law?
The parents argued that the state law conflicts with federal law regarding recovering Medicaid funds from medical malpractice suits. The Medicaid Act prohibits states from putting liens on patients' property for Medicaid funds. Medical malpractice settlements are property. A previous Supreme Court case clarified that the prohibition against liens only applied to the portions of malpractice settlements not covering medical care, such as when victims recover for pain and suffering.
The settlement in this case never stated how much of the $2.6 million was for the girl's medical care and how much was for other expenses. The state argued that it should be able to determine the amount of the award that is for medical care. The parents argued that allowing the state to set the amount of an award that is for medical care will allow state to impermissibly recover more than one-third of malpractice settlements and leave victims destitute.
Talk to a lawyer
Trying to recover from injuries resulting from healthcare providers' errors is difficult enough without having to worry about how to pay for the expenses associated with such injuries. If you have been a victim of medical malpractice, seek the assistance of a seasoned medical malpractice attorney with a proven history of success in handling these complex cases.