North Dakota Rules Damage Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases Unconstitutional

January 25, 2018 | Crandall & Pera Law
North Dakota Rules Damage Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases Unconstitutional

North Dakota took a giant step in the right direction for victims of medical malpractice. In early January, South Central Judicial District Judge Cynthia Feland ruled that the state’s arbitrary damage cap on medical malpractice verdicts was unconstitutional, “saying it deprives the most catastrophically injured patients of full compensation and thus denies them equal protection of the laws.” This is a victory for the people of North Dakota, and another legal precedent for those of us around the country who have been striving to end dangerous tort reform practices for years.

What did the judge do?

Last April, a woman named Chenille Condon won her trial against a Dr. Allen Michael Booth and his employer, St. Alexius Medical Center. The jury found for Ms. Condon after the doctor’s negligence during an exploratory procedure led to her stroke, paralysis and blurred vision. The jury verdict for Ms. Condon was $3.5 million: $2 million for her economic damages and $1.5 million for past and future non-economic damages.

However, North Dakota enacted a law in 1995, capping non-economic damages at $500,000. The lawyers for Dr. Booth and St. Alexius requested that the amount be lowered, given that law.

Why did the judge strike down the defendant’s request?

Under the 1995 North Dakota law, the reason the $500,000 cap was enacted was threefold: “to increase access to health care, control medical expenses and maintain or increase the quality of health care.” The amount of the cap was, as are all damage cap amounts, entirely arbitrary.

However, as Judge Feland pointed out, limiting the jury’s verdict contributed in no way to upholding these factors. Let’s break them down:

  1. It would not increase her access to care. In fact, given how expensive healthcare is, and how much hospitals stays can cost, it could actually cause her harm. And there is no evidence it has helped other people access healthcare, either.

  2. Limiting the amount of the verdict would do nothing to help control medical expenses. The mistake had already been made and she needs future care. Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that doctors across the country are not struggling to obtain or pay for medical malpractice insurance. Thus, there is no need to increase medical costs.

  3. Limiting the verdict did not decrease anyone’s costs. Remember, the jury awarded Ms. Condon more money to pay for her medical bills than it did for her noneconomic losses, and there are no caps on that amount at all.

  4. Limiting the verdict did nothing to increase the quality of healthcare. Holding doctors responsible for only a fraction of the harm they cause does not incentivize practicing safer medicine.

Why a decision in North Dakota should matter in Ohio and Kentucky

At Crandall & Pera Law, we have been waging our own battles against tort reform in the states where we live and practice law. Ohio’s medical malpractice cap is $250,000 or three times the compensatory damages amount, with a maximum of $350,000 per plaintiff or $500,000 per incident. In instances where the victim has a permanent and substantial physical deformity or loss of bodily organ system, that cap rises to $500,000 per plaintiff or $1 million per incident.  Kentucky doesn’t have damage caps, but tort reform is here as well: we narrowly avoided having our rights denied by medical review panels, but they have currently been deemed unconstitutional.

As more and more courts come down on the right side of justice, the better we are able to uphold the rights of our clients. North Dakota has joined in the fight for what is right, and we are thrilled about it.

Crandall & Pera Law is a premier medical malpractice law firm representing clients throughout Ohio and Kentucky. If you were the victim of medical negligence, or if your loved one was harmed because of a medical error, we want to hear your story. To schedule a free initial consultation at one of our offices, please our Kentucky lawyers at 877-686-8879, our Ohio lawyers at 877-686-8879, or use our contact form to make an appointment.