Data Suggest That Noneconomic Damage Caps Do Not Reduce the Cost of Healthcare, While Maryland Courts Continue to Affirm Their Constitutionality

Maryland state law imposes a cap on noneconomic damages in all personal injury and wrongful death cases. This applies to “nonpecuniary” damages like pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, physical impairment, and loss of consortium. MD Cts & Jud Pro Code §§ 3-2A-01(h), 11-108(a)(2). Advocates of damage caps, commonly known as “tort reform,” claim that they are necessary to keep insurance costs under control, particularly in the medical field, and therefore to keep costs down for the public. Opponents of tort reform, including advocates for patients’ rights and others, say that after more than a decade, caps on damages in personal injury litigation have not stopped an increase in healthcare and other costs. Maryland courts, meanwhile, have repeatedly affirmed noneconomic damages caps against constitutional challenges.

The law prohibits informing the jury about the noneconomic damage cap in personal injury, wrongful death, or medical malpractice trials. If a jury enters an award that exceeds the cap, the court is directed to reduce the amount accordingly. As of October 1, 2013, noneconomic damages in personal injury and wrongful death claims, other than medical malpractice claims, are capped at $785,000 for all claims arising from a single incident. The only exception to this is a wrongful death claim with multiple beneficiaries, in which case state law increases the maximum amount by fifty percent. The cap increases by $15,000 every October 1. MD Cts & Jud Pro Code § 11-108(b)(2). For medical malpractice claims, the cap is $740,000 as of January 1, 2014, increased by twenty-five percent for a wrongful death claim with more than one beneficiary. This cap also increases by $15,000 every year. MD Cts & Jud Pro Code § 3-2A-09(b). The for medical malpractice.

The advocacy group Public Citizen has criticized the idea that damage caps are necessary to control costs. Its data show that malpractice payouts in 2010 were the lowest at any point in the previous twenty years when adjusting for inflation, and the lowest since 1998 in absolute dollars. Annual malpractice payments reportedly decreased by nearly twelve percent between 2000 and 2010, and accounted for only 0.0013% of total health care costs nationwide in 2010. During the same ten-year period, national spending on health care rose by ninety percent.

The Maryland Court of Appeals recently rejected a challenge to the wrongful death noneconomic damage cap based on the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions. Dixon v. Ford Motor Company, 70 A.3d 328 (Md. Ct. App. 2013). The court revisited and affirmed a prior decision, in which it found that the damage cap does not create separate classes of plaintiffs based on the severity of their injuries, and does not result in disparate treatment of plaintiffs with more serious injuries by denying them damages in excess of the cap. DRD v. Freed, 5 A.3d 45, 57 (Md. Ct. App. 2010). It followed this and earlier cases in finding that both the single incident cap and the 150% cap are not unconstitutional. Dixon, 70 A.3d at 344.

Lebowitz & Mzhen’s personal injury attorneys are skilled at pursuing justice for people in Maryland who have been injured or lost loved ones due to the negligent or illegal conduct of others. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland High Court Upholds Contributory Negligence Rule, Maryland Accident Law Blog, July 12, 2013
Death of Maryland Family in Auto Accident Leads to First Lawsuit Based on Fetal Death Statute: Baumann et al v. Slezak et al, Maryland Accident Law Blog, November 23, 2012
Maryland Law Requires Medical Malpractice Plaintiff to File the Claim With the State Before Filing Suit – Haskins v. Washington Adventist Hospital, Inc., Maryland Accident Law Blog, October 2, 2012

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