Senate Bill 33 and House Bill 542 are currently being debated in the North Carolina legislature. Senate Bill 33's primary sponsors are Tom Apodaca, Harry Brown, and Bob Rucho, three irresponsible Republicans who are intent on rewarding their campaign contributors at the expense of their constituents. House Bill 542's primary sponsors include Johnathan Rhyne, Danny McComas, William Brisson, and Jim Crawford. It is abundantly clear from the provisions of the house version that these gentlemen have likewise failed to consider the ramifications of their actions.
The versions of the proposed legislation vary slightly, but the essential proposal similar. SB 33 includes the same detrimental proposals regarding the lack of liability for medical negligence, further reducing the cap on damages for death, disfigurement, and mutilation from $500,000 to $250,000.
House Bill 542 includes a provision legalizing negligence in emergency rooms. Only if an ER doctor is drunk, stoned, etc., or intentionally harmed a patient would the hospital or doctor be liable. Under the bill, the new standard of care in the emergency room for federally mandated services is "gross negligence" - defined under North Carolina law as intentional misconduct. Senate Bill 33 makes negligent screening and treatment totally immune from liability.
House Bill 542 provides North Carolinians less protection from dangerous and defective products than citizens of any other state. To recover damages, a North Carolinian injured by a defective product would have to prove the manufacturer obtained agency approval by fraud or bribery. Michigan alone provides similar immunity to drug companies, and that rule has been universally criticized. The House bill extends the Michigan rule from drugs to every product. If this proposal is enacted, manufacturers in other states will be able to dump their dangerous and defective products in North Carolina with impunity.
The long-standing legal rule in North Carolina is that a jury should not be told that either party has insurance so as to not prejudice the jury's decision as to who was at fault and what were the damages. The idea is: if the jury knows that the Defendant has liability insurance and would not actually pay damages, or that the Plaintiff had purchased insurance which would cover some of his/her losses, that information would unfairly affect the verdict. However, the House Bill 542 eliminates half of this established legal principle for no apparent reason, radically tipping the scale against the injured person. Under the proposal, the jury would hear information about the Plaintiff's insurance, giving the drunk driver or negligent hospital the benefit of the Plaintiff's prudence in purchasing insurance. However, the jury would hear nothing about the Defendant's insurance. The prejudice goes only against the injured party, not against the negligent party and their insurance company.
The supporters of this bill (see above) have presented no facts or rationale to support dismantling the civil justice system in North Carolina. In fact, the opposite is apparent as North Carolina is ranked first in the nation by Site Selection Magazine as the most "business-friendly" state. Regarding the medical malpractice argument, negligent hospitals, doctors and their insurance companies have failed to justify this government bailout. While thousands of patients are severely injured or killed every year in N.C. hospitals by negligence, the number of malpractice suits has sharply decreased over the past decade, verdicts are modest, liability insurance premiums have plunged, and the number of doctors is rapidly growing.
N.C. has one of the most restrictive products liability statutes in the country. Our state is one of only four states with contributory negligence, a harsh rule that disadvantages injured persons, and benefits wrongdoers and their insurance companies. However, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and other special interest groups are trying to seize a troubled economy to pursue their interests at the expense of North Carolinians.