Shannon Brown proved, in court, that damages for her injuries caused when a petroleum truck ran a red light were worth approximately $1.1 million. So, why is she only receiving $729,000? You guessed it: Maryland has a non-economic cap on pain and suffering. Since the jury’s sound judgment in rendering a verdict exceeded this ridiculous cap, the verdict, which included a $1,000,000 pain and suffering award, was reduced by the trial judge.
Shannon’s injuries included a severe leg fracture that required two surgeries; on July 13, 2006, the gas tanker in question. ran a red light and into Shannon’s vehicle, causing a crush injury to her right leg, which required surgical insertion of a plate and 18 screws.
Maryland’s Damage Limitation statute:
Md. COURTS AND JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS Code Ann. § 11-108 (2008)
§ 11-108. Personal injury action — Limitation on noneconomic damages
(a) Definitions. –
(1) In this section the following words have the meanings indicated.
(2) (i) ”Noneconomic damages” means:
1. In an action for personal injury, pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, or other nonpecuniary injury; and
2. In an action for wrongful death, mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, care, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education, or other noneconomic damages authorized under Title 3, Subtitle 9 of this article.
(ii) ”Noneconomic damages” does not include punitive damages.
(3) ”Primary claimant” means a claimant in an action for the death of a person described under § 3-904(d) of this article.
(4) ”Secondary claimant” means a claimant in an action for the death of a person described under § 3-904(e) of this article.
(b) Limitation on amount of damages established. –
(1) In any action for damages for personal injury in which the cause of action arises on or after July 1, 1986, an award for noneconomic damages may not exceed $ 350,000.
(2) (i) Except as provided in paragraph (3)(ii) of this subsection, in any action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death in which the cause of action arises on or after October 1, 1994, an award for noneconomic damages may not exceed $ 500,000.
(ii) The limitation on noneconomic damages provided under subparagraph (i) of this paragraph shall increase by $ 15,000 on October 1 of each year beginning on October 1, 1995. The increased amount shall apply to causes of action arising between October 1 of that year and September 30 of the following year, inclusive.
(3) (i) The limitation established under paragraph (2) of this subsection shall apply in a personal injury action to each direct victim of tortious conduct and all persons who claim injury by or through that victim.
(ii) In a wrongful death action in which there are two or more claimants or beneficiaries, an award for noneconomic damages may not exceed 150% of the limitation established under paragraph (2) of this subsection, regardless of the number of claimants or beneficiaries who share in the award.
(c) Award under § 3-2A-05 included. — An award by the health claims arbitration panel in accordance with § 3-2A-05 of this article for damages in which the cause of action arose before January 1, 2005, shall be considered an award for purposes of this section.
(d) Jury trials. –
(1) In a jury trial, the jury may not be informed of the limitation established under subsection (b) of this section.
(2) (i) If the jury awards an amount for noneconomic damages that exceeds the limitation established under subsection (b) of this section, the court shall reduce the amount to conform to the limitation.
(ii) In a wrongful death action in which there are two or more claimants or beneficiaries, if the jury awards an amount for noneconomic damages that exceeds the limitation established under subsection (b)(3)(ii) of this section, the court shall:
1. If the amount of noneconomic damages for the primary claimants equals or exceeds the limitation under subsection (b)(3)(ii) of this section:
A. Reduce each individual award of a primary claimant proportionately to the total award of all of the primary claimants so that the total award to all claimants or beneficiaries conforms to the limitation; and
B. Reduce each award, if any, to a secondary claimant to zero dollars; or
2. If the amount of noneconomic damages for the primary claimants does not exceed the limitation under subsection (b)(3)(ii) of this section or if there is no award to a primary claimant:
A. Enter an award to the primary claimant, if any, as directed by the verdict; and
B. Reduce each individual award of a secondary claimant proportionately to the total award of all of the secondary claimants so that the total award to all claimants or beneficiaries conforms to the limitation.
(e) Exclusions. — The provisions of this section do not apply to a verdict under Title 3, Subtitle 2A of this article for damages in which the cause of action arises on or after January 1, 2005.
In this case, the state’s damage cap places a limit on Shannon’s compensation. Her pain and suffering award was capped at $665,000.00. Prior to trial, the highest offer was $25,000.00. I invite Maryland InjuryBoard members to comment on how this cap has effected their client’s pursuit of justice. The jury, in this case, seems to have considered all of the evidence and rendered a very reasonable and sensible verdict. Caps have cheated the plaintiff out of $400,000. This is very nice for the commercial insurance company, a travesty of justice for the seriously injured plaintiff.
How do we, as a society, promote safe driving when the message to the unsafe driver is that he/she will be protected by the legislature, even if his conduct is negligent and the injuries his conduct causes are severe? A petroleum truck driver ran a red light! Lawsuit Financial will continue to report travesties of justice caused by unreasonable damage limitations resulting from legislative tort reform. This pro-justice legal funding company will continue to ask why a legislative solution is better than the sound judgment of a jury of the plaintiff’s peers as guaranteed by the constitution. The Maryland cap on damages in auto accidents, medical malpractice cases, and all other types of personal injury litigation has been found to be a lawful and constitutional exercise of legislative power, under the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions. The legislative justification is theory is that caps have a “rational basis” in making insurance available and affordable to the public. Maybe if one of those legislators got hit by a petroleum truck and suffered catastrophic injuries…
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.