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Colorado doctor says removing pain & suffering jury award caps could increase consumer costs, force some doctors out

Some people opposed to removing caps on pain and suffering damages are speaking with CBS News Colorado following this story showing why some Colorado attorneys feel the removal is necessary to ensure people who suffer life-altering injuries receive the money they deserve.

Steve Straughen will only receive about half of the $30 million jury award he won in federal court earlier this month after he was critically injured while working at a fracking site in Northern Colorado in 2019. His attorney Kurt Zaner says $14 million of his award will be nullified, because of Colorado laws capping how much someone can receive for non-economic, or pain and suffering, damages in court. 

Zaner supports a proposed ballot measure for the November election, called Initiative 150, which would ask voters to remove the non-economic damages caps. 

But some Colorado doctors worry removing those caps could make it hard for small business owners to stay afloat, and could end up passing higher costs on to consumers, because doctors’ insurance premiums would increase. 

Dr. Catrina Bubier runs her own OBGYN practice in Littleton. She’s against Initiative 150.

“It’s not just about medicine. It has to do with all of us, every person, from car insurance, to liability insurance, it’s going to affect us all,” Bubier said. “If there’s not a cap, it will raise the cost of living in Colorado even further, and may push small businesses out, push medical providers out, make it to where it’s more difficult to access care.”

Instead, she supports slowly increasing caps over the next few years to keep up with inflation. Senate Bill 130 would do that. SB 130 was proposed this session, and would increase medical malpractice pain and suffering caps from $300,000 to $500,000. 

“You just need to put a limit, because if you don’t put a limit on it, it’s going to increase cost across the board,” Bubier said. 

Groups in favor of eliminating the caps point to various studies published between 2015 to 2022 that have found that cap laws do not lower insurance premiums. But groups opposed to the cap removal point to a National Institutes of Health study from 2007 that found insurance premiums in states with caps were 17.1% lower than in states that don’t have caps. An additional study from 2022 shows after North Carolina instituted a cap in 2011, insurance rates went down. 

Dr. Bubier worries if caps were eliminated altogether, it could force some doctors out of business. 

“There are certain states in the country that are hard for OBGYNs to go to, because the cost is so high there,” Dr. Bubier said. “I do know of a handful of physicians personally that have left states that that can’t afford to be in that state anymore.”

Bubier also says at the end of the day, attorneys do stand to gain a great deal more money if caps are removed. 

COPIC, a group Bubier works with for insurance purposes, supports two alternative ballot measures to Initiative 150 – Initiatives 170 and 171 – which would aim to cap attorneys’ contingency fees at 25%, and would require more cost transparency from attorneys. 

All of the ballot initiatives are still in the works, and have not yet gathered enough signatures to be printed on the November ballot.