The pain and suffering of every West Virginian

By The West Virginia Record | Oct 22, 2010

There may be something salutary about hair shirts, beds of nails, and other instruments of self-mortification, but most people try to avoid pain and suffering. When it's inflicted by a second party, they protest loudly and demand redress.

For most folks it's only natural to sympathize with the injured and support claims for appropriate compensation. But measuring pain and suffering is hard to do since it varies in intensity from one person to the next.

How can we put a price on pain that we ourselves have not experienced? Should one victim be compensated more than another because the former has less tolerance for discomfort? The subject of pain and suffering raises difficult questions.

Here's a question we can answer: Is it right when a victim's compensation causes pain and suffering to innocent third parties? Of course not.

That, however, is what happened to the citizens of West Virginia before the state Legislature placed a cap on non-monetary damages in medical malpractice cases.

Extravagant awards for pain and suffering were causing insurance rates to skyrocket for doctors, prompting many of them to abandon their specialties, retire early or relocate to more hospitable states.

State Senator Evan Jenkins, who also is executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, recalls the pain and suffering thousands endured as a result of "access-to-care problems." Patients had to be airlifted to out-of-state medical facilities, expectant mothers went without obstetricians as their doctors fled the state, etc.

Now, an eastern Panhandle couple is seeking legal relief that could cause pain and suffering for the rest of us again as they appeal the Legislature's caps in higher court.

Various medical and insurance associations have filed an amici curiae brief in support of the caps. They stress the importance of maintaining the "careful balance" between the compensation rights of victims and the public need for adequate medical care.

Surely no one has a right to inflict pain and suffering on every West Virginian for the benefit of a few.

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