Gov. Bob McDonnell has told legislators that he is likely to veto a bill that would raise awards in medical malpractice lawsuits $50,000 each year starting in 2012, because it violates a promise he made during his 2009 campaign, according to lawmakers and lobbyists.
McDonnell (R) spoke to the bill’s sponsors — Del. David Albo (R-Fairfax), Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Thomas Norment (R-James City) — and House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford) on Friday.
Legislative leaders have warned McDonnell that the General Assembly, which returns to the Capitol on April 6, passed the bill so overwhelmingly that both chambers could override a veto. The Senate passed the bill unanimously while the House of Delegates approved it 89-7.
Lawmakers have debated for years whether to increase the awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. Some Democrats have favored an increase, but Republicans have rejected the proposals in the name of tort reform.
McDonnell, a lawyer and former state attorney general, favored some increases when he was a legislator, but criticized his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Sen. Creigh Deeds, for supporting a 1999 bill that would have raised Virginia’s cap on medical malpractice settlements from $1 million to $3 million.
And an increase likely would not play well for McDonnell, who is eyeing a role on the national stage.
McDonnell’s staff had been expected to meet Tuesday morning with the trio of organizations that negotiated a compromise — the Medical Society of Virginia, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association — about the bill, but canceled Monday afternoon.
All three groups have been lobbying the governor to sign the bill. They sent a joint letter to McDonnell, and encouraged others to do the same. The Medical Society of Virginia also urged its members to send e-mails to the governor’s office. As of Monday, more than 550 had been sent.
Albo and Sen. Henry Marsh (D-Richmond), both attorneys, helped trial attorneys and doctors negotiate a deal before this year’s legislative session began by telling them that if they didn’t work out a compromise, legislators would do it for them.
In the 1970s, the General Assembly capped awards in medical malpractice lawsuits at $750,000. The cap was gradually increased and capped at $2 million in 2008.
The bill calls for an increase from $2 million starting in 2012, and then $50,000 each year until 2031.
Katie Webb, senior vice president of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, described the bill as a “predictable, reasonable increase in the cap over 20 years”
Jack Harris, executive director of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, said he was “a little surprised” to hear McDonnell may have concerns now because his office never expressed any during the legislative session. Harris said a veto or an amendment that would “blow the agreement apart” would not encourage compromises in the future.
McDonnell has until midnight Tuesday to sign, amend or veto the bill.