In its decision rendered on March 30, 2015, the Court of Appeals of Maryland (“Appellate Court”), Maryland’s highest appellate court, had to decide the extent to which the Maryland General Assembly intended, and was within its authority, to limit a local government’s financial liability under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”), Md. Code (1974, 2013 Repl. Vol., 2014 Supp.), Section 5-301 et seq. of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article (“CJP”), for damages resulting from violations of the Maryland state constitution. The issue was whether the LGTCA’s cap on damages applied to violations of the Maryland Constitution.
In the case it was deciding, the Appellate Court held that the LGTCA, where applicable, limits the damages recoverable against a local government for violations of the Maryland state constitution.
Maryland also has a statutory cap on noneconomic damages in Maryland medical malpractice claims, as well as a separate statutory cap on noneconomic damages in other personal injury claims. The Appellate Court’s discussion of the cap on damages under the LGTCA, and its analysis of why the LGTCA damages cap is reasonable, shed light on its reasoning regarding the legitimacy of damages caps in Maryland in general.
Article 19 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights states, “That every man, for any injury done to him in his person or property, ought to have remedy by the course of the Law of the land, and ought to have justice and right, freely without sale, fully without any denial, and speedily without delay, according to the Law of the land,” which essentially protects two interrelated rights: a right to a remedy for an injury to one’s person or property and a right of access to the courts. In reviewing an Article 19 challenge to a legislative restriction on a remedy, the Appellate Court applies a reasonableness test (restrictions resulting in no compensation or drastically inadequate compensation (i.e., almost no compensation) have been held to be unreasonable).
The Appellate Court has upheld damages caps as reasonable under Article 19 in prior cases: “Article 19 does guarantee access to the courts, but that access is subject to reasonable regulation. A statutory restriction upon access to the courts violates Article 19 only if the restriction is unreasonable. . . . There is a distinction between restricting access to the courts and modifying the substantive law to be applied by the courts. The plaintiffs’ cause of action based on negligence was not abolished by § 11-108 [“Personal injury action — Limitation on noneconomic damages”]. Instead, § 11-108 simply modifies the law of damages to be applied in tort cases.”
What Is A “Reasonable Cap”?
The Appellate Court stated that in assessing the reasonableness of a damages cap, the question is whether application of the damages cap leads to no remedy or a “drastically inadequate” remedy, i.e, the equivalent of “almost no compensation” to the plaintiff (applying a damage cap does not vitiate a person’s remedy altogether).
In the present case, the Appellate Court stated that the Maryland Legislature had determined that the responsibility of the local government entity to indemnify the employee should be limited to $200,000 per individual claim and $500,000 per occurrence … [which] decision is a matter of policy and it is not unreasonable.
Some would argue that applying a “reasonableness” test in evaluating restrictions placed on constitutionally protected rights is like throwing the baby out with the bath water — how is a constitutionally protected right inviolate if a state legislature can impose its will in defining the extent of the right at any time and with little, if any, justification? “We the People” has become “We the Legislature” in deciding which constitutional rights are important and how they may be interpreted or restricted – the “guarantee of constitutional rights” appears to be a limited guarantee, at best.
If you were injured in Maryland due to medical malpractice, you should promptly find a Maryland medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your Maryland medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a Maryland medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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