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Million-dollar medical malpractice verdicts have doubled since 1996. They now make up 8 percent of all malpractice claims actually paid. This, at the same time that verdicts for the defense remain the norm and the number of lawsuit filings has actually fallen somewhat. Why? The quick — and partially correct — answer is that the cost of health care has skyrocketed. If a three-year-old must breathe on a respirator for the rest of her life, which is expected to last at least 25 years, she’ll need a bigger award to cover the cost of that care. But the truly big verdicts are due to something else. It’s called a paradigm shift. Changes in the law, the tools available to plaintiffs lawyers and the attitudes of potential jurors have altered the playing field for doctors being sued. And they don’t seem to have caught on. Instead of changing how they approach litigation, doctors want to cap malpractice awards. Senate Republicans failed to get enough votes to break a mainly Democratic filibuster of just such a bill. The proposed legislation, which has already passed the House, would cap pain-and-suffering damages at $250,000 and limit punitive damages to $250,000 or twice the compensatory damages for economic loss, whichever is greater. Of course, that loss was not the end of the damages cap. Doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and tort reformers will keep pushing it. But their effort is a mere bandage for a serious wound. It won’t cure the medical malpractice “crisis.” Big verdicts will keep getting bigger until doctors face what’s really going wrong in court. JURIES’ FOCUS

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