Maryland Damages Cap to be Reviewed by State’s Court of Appeals

The Maryland Court of Appeals announced this month that they will hear an appeal that challenges the constitutionality of a damage cap that limits the amount of compensation plaintiffs can be awarded for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, in Maryland medical malpractice, personal injury and other tort lawsuits.

The review, which is the first in 15 years where the court will consider the constitutionality of the cap, will center on a case involving the drowning of 5-year old boy in a country club swimming pool in June 2006. The plaintiffs challenged the Maryland cap on non-economic damages after a jury awarded the family $2 million in a wrongful death lawsuit, only to have it reduced to $1.3 million under the limits imposed at the time the cause of action arose.

The Maryland damage cap was established in 1986, and specifies that a jury’s award for non-economic damages cannot exceed an amount that increases modestly every year. Currently, the cap is set at $725,000, but at the time of Freed’s death it was $665,000.

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When awarding damages in Maryland lawsuits, jurors are not informed about the cap, which has survived several challenges in the past.

California was the first state to enact a damage cap in 1975, specifically limiting the non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of 2005 ten states capped recoveries specifically on medical malpractice cases and another 22 have caps that are not limited to medical malpractice, like Maryland. About a dozen states also have caps on punitive damages.

The issues being debated in the Maryland case echo similar challenges being waged in other states. The Georgia Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the state’s damage cap in medical malpractice cases, which limits the damages to $350,000. Similarly, a plaintiff in Indiana who won an $8.5 million malpractice verdict for the death of his wife is challenging that state’s $750,000 cap.

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