State Court Strikes Down Non-Economic Damages Cap for Medical Malpractice Resulting in Death

The Utah Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that a limit on certain damages in medical malpractice actions that was imposed by the legislature violated the state constitution. In the case of Smith v. the United States, the Utah Supreme Court held that the non-economic damages cap contained in the Utah Health Care Malpractice Act, a law passed by the state legislature in 1986, was unconstitutional if it is applied to cases that allege wrongful death as a result of medical malpractice. The Court used a constitutional provision that forbids the legislature from limiting the amount recoverable for injuries resulting in death to invalidate the statutory damages cap. As a result of the ruling, Utah plaintiffs who allege medical malpractice that resulted in the death of an individual cannot have their awards reduced or limited by the non-economic damages cap contained in the Health Care Malpractice Act.

Non-Economic Damages and the Limits or Caps Commonly Placed on Awards

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANon-economic damages are awarded to plaintiffs to compensate them for losses caused by the negligence of another that cannot be calculated as economic damages. (Economic damages include medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, funeral bills, lost wages and potential earnings, future care costs, and so forth.) In the case of medical malpractice actions, non-economic damages include inconvenience and “pain and suffering,” as well as the loss of the companionship and future care of a loved one who is left disabled or killed based on the malpractice of a professional medical provider.

Just as the Utah legislature did in 1986, many states have enacted laws that limit the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff in a medical malpractice action. In Maryland, for example, there is a total limit on non-economic damages of $943,750 in a malpractice action as of January 1, 2015. This limit applies if wrongful death is alleged as a result of malpractice, and it represents the total amount that the victim, their estate, and any beneficiaries can receive in non-economic damages from a malpractice action.

The Effect of the Utah Supreme Court’s Decision

The ruling in Smith v. the United States is only controlling law in Utah, and the Court made it clear that the non-economic damages cap for malpractice actions not arising from a death remains in effect. The decision does not affect non-economic damages limits in other states, although several other states do have similar provisions in their constitutions to the constitutional provision that the Utah Supreme Court used to invalidate the limit on non-economic damages. These states include Arizona, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and others.

With the Utah Supreme Court’s recent decision on the books, plaintiffs in these states will likely try and challenge the caps on non-economic damages that exist. Whether limits on non-economic damages are struck down in other states or not, it is important for victims of medical malpractice to understand that even in states with seemingly low limits on non-economic damages in malpractice actions, a skilled medical malpractice attorney can obtain a significant award of both economic and non-economic damages, and it is possible for malpractice victims to be fairly compensated for their loss, even with a damages cap.

Are You a Victim of Medical Malpractice?

If you or a loved one may have been the victim of medical malpractice, contacting a qualified Baltimore medical malpractice attorney is the first step toward being awarded the compensation you deserve. The Maryland and D.C. medical malpractice attorneys at Wais, Vogelstein, Forman & Offutt have a detailed knowledge of the law as it applies to our clients’ cases, and we can make sure that we do everything we can to ensure that our clients will be fairly compensated before moving forward with a settlement or proceeding with a case to trial. The Maryland malpractice attorneys at Wais, Vogelstein, Forman & Offutt focus on representing victims of medical malpractice and negligence. Call us today at (410) 567-0800 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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