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WASHINGTON-Tax legislation passed by the House of Representatives last week would cap medical malpractice damages.

The House tax bill would place a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits. The cap would not apply to other personal injury awards. The House measure also would limit medical malpractice awards in other ways as well. Those include:

Punitive damage awards limit. The amount of punitive damages that could be awarded could not exceed the greater of $250,000 or three times the amount of economic damages.

In order to win punitive damages, a plaintiff would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the conduct "manifested a conscious flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of others" or was specifically intended to cause harm.

Also, manufacturers of medical products generally could not be held liable for punitive damages if their products were approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

Periodic payments. Court awards mandating periodic payments of medical malpractice awards of more than $50,000 generally could not be reopened or contested. However, courts still would have the discretion to award lump-sum payments.

None of these medical malpractice reforms, eagerly sought by medical groups, are in the Senate bill. That will leave it up to a congressional conference committee to resolve this and numerous other differences in the two bills.