Supreme Court Hearing May Affect Kentucky Medical Malpractice Awards

A 12-year-old North Carolina girl who allegedly was seriously injured during birth was the subject of a Supreme Court hearing earlier this year that could affect medical malpractice award recipients across the country. The girl’s family was recently awarded almost $3 million in a medical malpractice settlement that claimed the doctor who delivered her caused her to be blind, deaf, and unable to walk, sit up, or care for herself. Shortly after the victim’s birth, the doctor, who was known to abuse drugs, voluntarily surrendered his license. A lawsuit was filed by the girl’s family in 2003 and was settled in 2006.

As allowed under current North Carolina law, the state laid claim to over $900,000 of the settlement, or one-third of the total amount, to cover a portion of what Medicaid had paid in medical expenses for the girl. But the family is disputing the state’s claim, saying it is illegal under federal law, which trumps state law. According to federal law, Medicaid generally cannot put a lien on personal property, and a medical malpractice award is considered personal property. However, Medicaid can put a lien on whatever portion of an award or settlement was given to cover medical expenses. In theory, this would make sense – if Medicaid has been paying the medical bills, they could be reimbursed for that amount from the awarded.

However, in many cases, like the current one in North Carolina, settlements or awards are given in a lump sum, they are not divided into categories such as medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. So how much a state could claim to cover payments made by Medicaid is unclear. That is why states like North Carolina have assigned an arbitrary percentage that Medicaid can claim. Medical malpractice attorneys and victims’ advocates do not think states should be able to decide how much they are going to take. State governments fear that if they don’t set a certain amount they will not receive any reimbursement from legal settlements or damages because the plaintiff will claim that the entire amount was for something other than medical expenses.

In January, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard both sides of the case, and they are scheduled to make a decision later in the year. As with other Supreme Court decisions in the past, this one may only settle this particular case rather than rule on the situation as a whole. Whatever the outcome, experienced Kentucky medical malpractice attorneys such as Steve Frederick will still be able to help their clients obtain and retain as much compensation as possible if they are injured by a medical professional.

Source:

Supreme Court case involves medical malpractice awards, Medicaid; McClatchy Newspapers; Michael Doyle; January 7, 2013