Better news is on the horizon for Virginia’s (VA) victims of medical malpractice and their families, who have been subject to an arbitrary cap on damages since the 1970s.

For more than two years, the maximum amount of compensation available to medical and surgical mistake victims in damages has been frozen at $2 million.

That’s about to change after Virginia’s doctors and trial lawyers negotiated a truce in their dispute over damage awards, and their medical malpractice damage cap compromise is likely to become state law this year, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

The Medical Society of Virginia and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association agreed to a plan to increase the state’s limit on payouts in lawsuits by $50,000 a year, beginning in 2012, until it reaches $3 million in 2031.

The cap was put through the Virginia legislature to give special treatment to doctors and healthcare medical providers. It reflects the strength of lobbyists for the healthcare industry and the insurance companies over the medical malpractice issue.

Jack L. Harris, the trial lawyers association’s executive director, told the Pilot he was pleased to talk with the medical society but said his group would never be fully satisfied with a law that included the cap.

Two identical bills outlining the agreement already have been filed for the General Assembly session that began last week. Sens. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax County, and Tommy Norment, R-James City County, introduced SB771. Del. David Albo, R-Fairfax, introduced HB1459.

The issue of the medical malpractice cap became relevant in the case of Scott and Michelle Holweger of Virginia Beach. They sued the United States early last year seeking $15 million. The couple alleged that inadequate care at Portsmouth VA Naval Medical Center caused their child to be born with developmental disabilities

U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar approved a $2.3 million settlement between the Justice Department and the Holweger family, according to a court filing made public last Monday.

The family sued for $15 million. The lawsuit said their daughter’s neurological medical malpractice injuries are “extensive, severe and permanent.”

The cap has often meant the amount of medical negligence damages awarded by a jury is cut back in Virginia. In 2010 a case of a woman whose vagina was stitched to her rectum due to medical malpractice saw a $3 million jury award reduced to $1.925, the amount allowed by the cap at the time of the lawsuit.

This medical malpractice damages ceiling even affected our client who obtained a $2.3 million dollar verdict in November 2010 in an infant’s shoulder injury trial, resulting in a settlement within the existing Virginia medical malpractice cap.