Maryland’s Cap On Noneconomic Damages Applied In Medical Malpractice Cases Upheld

In a case involving the horrific drowning death of a five year old boy in a community swimming pool who experienced excruciating pain and suffering during the approximately two and a half minutes it took him to lose consciousness, the Court of Appeals of Maryland (Maryland’s highest appellate court) upheld the Maryland cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases, stating that the reduction of a plaintiff’s award of noneconomic damages, in compliance with the statutory cap imposed on noneconomic damages pursuant to Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, Section 11-108, is not a constitutional violation of the plaintiff’s rights because the cap is a rational measure imposed by the Maryland State Legislature to address the uncertainty in insurance premiums that occurs from noneconomic awards with no limits. The jury had found that the company responsible to maintain the pool was negligent and that its negligence led to the drowning of the little boy. The jury awarded the boy’s parents $4,006,442 for their noneconomic damages, which was reduced to $1,002,500 because of Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages.

The parents filed an appeal in which they argued that the Maryland cap on noneconomic damages was unconstitutional because it violated their right to a jury trial under the Maryland Declaration of Rights, Article 5  (“That the Inhabitants of Maryland are entitled to the Common Law of England, and the trial by Jury, according to the course of that Law…”) and Article 23 (“The right of trial by Jury of all issues of fact in civil proceedings in the several Courts of Law in this State, where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $15,000, shall be inviolably preserved.”), etc.

The Maryland cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases is set forth in Section 11-108 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, which states , in part:

(b) Limitation on amount of damages established. —

(1) In any action for damages for personal injury in which the cause of action arises on or after July 1, 1986, an award for noneconomic damages may not exceed $350,000.

(2) (i) Except as provided in paragraph (3)(ii) of this subsection, in any action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death in which the cause of action arises on or after October 1, 1994, an award for noneconomic damages may not exceed $500,000.

(ii) The limitation on noneconomic damages provided under subparagraph (i) of this paragraph shall increase by $15,000 on October 1 of each year beginning on October 1, 1995. The increased amount shall apply to causes of action arising between October 1 of that year and September 30 of the following year, inclusive.

(3) (i) The limitation established under paragraph (2) of this subsection shall apply in a personal injury action to each direct victim of tortious conduct and all persons who claim injury by or through that victim.

(ii) In a wrongful death action in which there are two or more claimants or beneficiaries, an award for noneconomic damages may not exceed 150% of the limitation established under paragraph (2) of this subsection, regardless of the number of claimants or beneficiaries who share in the award.

(c) Award under § 3-2A-05 included. — An award by the health claims arbitration panel in accordance with § 3-2A-05 of this article for damages in which the cause of action arose before January 1, 2005, shall be considered an award for purposes of this section.

(d) Jury trials. —

(1) In a jury trial, the jury may not be informed of the limitation established under subsection (b) of this section.

(2) (i) If the jury awards an amount for noneconomic damages that exceeds the limitation established under subsection (b) of this section, the court shall reduce the amount to conform to the limitation.

(ii) In a wrongful death action in which there are two or more claimants or beneficiaries, if the jury awards an amount for noneconomic damages that exceeds the limitation established under subsection (b)(3)(ii) of this section, the court shall:

1. If the amount of noneconomic damages for the primary claimants equals or exceeds the limitation under subsection (b)(3)(ii) of this section:

A. Reduce each individual award of a primary claimant proportionately to the total award of all of the primary claimants so that the total award to all claimants or beneficiaries conforms to the limitation; and

B. Reduce each award, if any, to a secondary claimant to zero dollars; or

2. If the amount of noneconomic damages for the primary claimants does not exceed the limitation under subsection (b)(3)(ii) of this section or if there is no award to a primary claimant:

A. Enter an award to the primary claimant, if any, as directed by the verdict; and

B. Reduce each individual award of a secondary claimant proportionately to the total award of all of the secondary claimants so that the total award to all claimants or beneficiaries conforms to the limitation.

(e) Exclusions. — The provisions of this section do not apply to a verdict under Title 3, Subtitle 2A of this article for damages in which the cause of action arises on or after January 1, 2005.

In the drowning case, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that Section 11-108 “simply modifies the law of damages to be applied in tort cases…Further, the right to a jury trial is likewise unaffected by the Cap. The Cap reflects a policy judgment by the General Assembly which does not interfere with the underlying right to a trial by jury because plaintiffs will still have a jury determine the facts and assess liability.” The Court of Appeals applied a “rational basis standard” in determining the constitutionality of the Maryland cap on noneconomic damages instead of a “heightened level of scrutiny” standard because the cap “does not implicate such an important “right” as to trigger heightened scrutiny. Instead, the statute represents the type of economic regulation which has regularly been reviewed under the traditional rational basis test by this Court…”

Source

Is a cap on the amount of noneconomic damages that a victim of negligence can receive as a result of a jury’s determination of such damages really an “economic regulation”? Is the jury really “determining the facts and assessing liability” if its decision is meaningless and ineffective over an arbitrary limit (cap) on the amount of damages that it awards? Why not tell the jury that any amount over the amount of the cap should not be considered or awarded because that amount will not be paid to the innocent victims of negligence? What is the rational basis for hiding this from the jury? Why doesn’t the cap run afoul of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, Article 23’s requirement that “The right of trial by Jury of all issues of fact in civil proceedings in the several Courts of Law in this State, where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $15,000, shall be inviolably preserved.”?

If you or a loved one are the victim of medical malpractice in Maryland or any other state in the United States, visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your local area who may be able to assist you with your medical malpractice claim, or call us toll free at 800-295-3959. Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 at 10:42 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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