Nevada Supreme Court Overturns Lower Court Decision That Cap On Medical Malpractice Damages Is Unconstitutional

162017_132140396847214_292624_nIn its opinion filed on October 1, 2015, the Supreme Court of the State of Nevada (“Nevada Supreme Court”) held that NRS 41A.035, which limits to $350,000 the amount of  noneconomic damages that may be awarded in Nevada medical malpractice cases, is constitutional and applies per incident, regardless of how many plaintiffs, defendants, or claims are involved.

The Nevada Supreme Court therefore overturned the district court, which had erroneously found that the statute was unconstitutional on the basis that it violates a plaintiff’s constitutional right to trial by jury, that the statutory cap applies per plaintiff and per defendant, and that the statute only applies to professional negligence and not to medical malpractice.

NRS 41A.035

NRS 41A.035 provides that “[i]n an action for injury or death against a provider of health care based upon professional negligence, the injured plaintiff may recover noneconomic damages, but the amount of noneconomic damages awarded in such an action must not exceed $350,000.”

NRS 41A.035 Does Not Violate The Right Of Trial By Jury

The Nevada Supreme Court determined that the Nevada cap on noneconomic damages in Nevada medical malpractice cases does not violate the Nevada Constitution, which states, “[t]he right of trial by Jury shall be secured to all and remain inviolate forever.” Nev. Const. art. 1, § 3. The Nevada Supreme Court stated that in order for a statute to violate the right to trial by jury, a statute must make the right practically unavailable – the correct standard for evaluating whether a statute unconstitutionally restricts the right to a jury trial is that the right must not be burdened by the imposition of onerous conditions, restrictions or regulations which would make the right practically unavailable. The Nevada Supreme Court held that NRS 41A.035’s cap does not interfere with the jury’s factual findings because it takes effect only after the jury has made its assessment of damages, and thus, it does not implicate a plaintiff’s right to a jury trial.

NRS 41A.035 Does Not Violate Equal Protection Rights

The Nevada Supreme Court stated that to survive an equal protection challenge, NRS 41A.035 need only be rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose because the right of malpractice plaintiffs to sue for damages caused by medical professionals does not involve a fundamental constitutional right. The Nevada Supreme Court noted that the argument presented to voters in support of passing NRS 41A.035 was to “stabilize Nevada’s health care crisis and provide protection for both doctors and patients.” The Nevada Supreme Court held that based on this express goal, NRS 41A.035’s aggregate cap on noneconomic damages is rationally related to the legitimate governmental interest of ensuring that adequate and affordable health care is available to Nevada’s citizens by providing a hard cap limiting potential noneconomic damages arising from an incident of malpractice (the statute would seem to provide greater predictability and reduce costs for health-care insurers and, consequently, providers and patients) – “we conclude that NRS 41A.035 does not violate equal protection because the imposition of an aggregate cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions is rationally related to the legitimate governmental interests of ensuring that adequate and affordable health care is available to Nevada’s citizens.”

NRS 41A.035 Applies Per Incident, And Not Per Plaintiff, Per Defendant

The Nevada Supreme Court stated that in repealing NRS 41A.031(3)(a), which limited “the noneconomic damages awarded to each plaintiff from each defendant,” the 2004 amendments to NRS Chapter 41A adopted instead NRS 41A.035, which limits “the amount of noneconomic damages awarded in such an action,” and such an alteration suggests that noneconomic damages are restricted to a per-incident basis. The Nevada Supreme Court concluded that the noneconomic damages cap in NRS 41A.035 applies per incident, regardless of how many plaintiffs, defendants, or claims are involved.

NRS 41A.035 Applies To Medical Malpractice 

The Nevada Supreme Court stated that NRS 41A.035 applies to professional negligence claims, which by definition of NRS 41A.015 applies to “a provider of health care,” and includes physicians licensed pursuant to NRS Chapters 630 and 633. NRS 41A.017. In construing the statutes in harmony and consistent with what reason and public policy suggest the Nevada Legislature intended, the Nevada Supreme Court concluded that medical malpractice is incorporated into professional negligence, making NRS 41A.035 applicable to medical malpractice actions.

Tam v. Eight Judicial District Circuit,  131 Nev., Advance Opinion 80.

If you may be the victim of medical negligence in Nevada, you should promptly find a Nevada medical malpractice lawyer who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 3rd, 2015 at 5:21 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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