Recently in Tort Reform Category

Missouri Supreme Court Upholds State's Cap on Non-Economic Damage

May 17, 2012

As you may have read, I recently wrote regarding lawsuits that are currently pending in Mississippi, where the proponents of the suits are seeking to have the stat's cap on tort damages overturned. However, it seems that Mississippi is not the only state that is currently facing this issue. In Missouri, after winning a recent lawsuit challenging the state's noneconomic damages cap, Missouri doctors continue to fight another battle threatening to overturn the recovery limit, while Plaintiffs' attorneys continue to seek to overturn the limit.

According to Amednews.com, the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled on April 3rd in Sanders v. Ahmed that the state's noneconomic damages cap for medical malpractice or medical negligence cases was constitutional. The cap, adopted in 1986, impacts cases in which the alleged negligence happened before 2005. The limit was enacted at $350,000 but is now at more than $600,000 due to inflation. The second suit, which the state high court has yet to decide, centers on Missouri's latest $350,000 award limit. The cap impacts all medical liability or medical malpractice lawsuits starting in 2005. A decision in the case, Watts v. Cox, is expected by the summer, said attorneys involved in the case.

In Sanders v. Ahmed, a patient's family said the cap used to reduce their jury award from $9.2 million to $1.2 million violated the Missouri Constitution. The family had filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of Paulette Sanders, who died in 2005. Relatives claimed neurologist Iftekhar Ahmed, MD, failed to recognize and treat a fatal side effect resulting from a medication he prescribed to Sanders. Dr. Ahmed denied wrongdoing.

After winning at trial, the family filed a motion fighting the award reduction. A trial court upheld the reduction, and the family appealed. In their opinion, Supreme Court justices said the Legislature has the authority to enact damages caps.

"The remedy available in a statutorily created cause of action is a matter of law, not fact, and not within the purview of the jury," the court said. "To hold otherwise would be to tell the Legislature it could not legislate; it could neither create nor negate causes of action and in doing so could not prescribe the measure of damages for the same. This court never has so held and declines to do so now."

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The Resolution of Two Personal Injury Cases May End Mississippi's Cap on Non-Economic Damages

May 2, 2012

According to Gulflive.com, a state judge has declared a legislatively imposed cap on how much juries can award in non-economic damages unconstitutional. Circuit Judge Charles Webster in Coahoma County issued the ruling April 20 in a 14-page opinion. He criticized the Legislature for intruding into judicial authority. Webster's ruling came in a motion filed by Cleveland attorney Ralph E. Chapman in lawsuit seeking damages in the wrongful death of a child in an apartment complex fire.

A Coahoma jury in September returned a verdict for the plaintiffs that included $6 million in non-economic damages. State law that went into effect in 2004 limits awards for non-economic damages to $1 million. The cap applies to what a jury can award for things such as pain and suffering. The limits on damages were adopted by Mississippi lawmakers after years of contentious wrangling over tort changes.

Chapman said Tuesday that the plaintiffs sought the ruling on grounds the cap is unconstitutional. "We never knew what the judge would do until we got the order. As far as I can tell it's the first such order any trial judge has given on the issue. I do expect it to go before the Supreme Court," Chapman said. Greenville attorney Andrew N. Alexander III, representing the apartment complex owners, declined comment on the case. He said several motions remained to be addressed by the judge.

As reported by Gulflive.com, Judge Webster noted in his ruling that a lawsuit addressing caps on non-economic damages is already pending before the Supreme Court. However, he said the lawsuit dated back seven months and the parties in the case deserved a decision. Webster said he had agreed to hold off until Feb. 1, a deadline long passed. The Supreme Court has a number of appeals pending on tort changes.

But the main case is not really a case. It is a query.

Continue reading "The Resolution of Two Personal Injury Cases May End Mississippi's Cap on Non-Economic Damages" »

Metrolink Train Accident Settlement Illustrates Dangers of Tort Reform

August 7, 2011

Earlier this month, a judge carved up a $200 million settlement fund to be divided among dozens of people who had filed personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against Southern California's commuter rail network and other defendants. For many of these plaintiffs, the settlement money will barely cover medical costs, leave alone the crushing expenses they can expect over the rest of their lifetime. For Atlanta car accident lawyers, the limited liability rail operators enjoy illustrates the dangers of tort reform.

In September 2008, the Metrolink commuter train crashed into a freight train near Los Angeles, killing twenty-five people and injuring more than 100 people. Many of these people sustained serious injuries because they were in the first car that sustained maximum impact from the collision. Many people suffered spinal cord injuries and head injuries, and some of them still continue to receive treatment for these injuries close to three years after the accident.

However, Metrolink's liability in the event of an accident was capped at $200 million. The cap was enforced as part of the Amtrak Reform an Accountability Act in 1997, which was meant to help rail operators become more profitable. A $200 million settlement seems fair, unless you are dealing with a catastrophic accident, in which 25 people have died and more than 100 people are severely injured. Investigations showed that the accident had been caused by the carelessness of the Metrolink engineer at the controls, who had been texting at the time of the accident.

For the Los Angeles judge who was given the unenviable task of dividing $200 million among all the defendants, every day presented a Sophie's choice-type dilemma. Many of these personal injury and wrongful death plaintiffs deserved to be compensated far more than they were under the terms of the settlement. Many of the people who lost loved ones in the accident lost breadwinners, and these people face an immense financial struggle ahead. One victim of the accident, a foreign exchange student, suffered serious brain injuries, and is still in rehabilitation. She received the biggest settlement of more than $9 million, but her caregivers expect her to need therapy for several more years. As the judge noted in his ruling, one person who died in the accident left behind a special needs child. The average age of children lost in accident was nineteen years.

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