Caps On Malpractice Awards Limit Plaintiffs’ Compensation, But Are Being Struck Down In Many States

Perry Larkin | October 17th, 2012

Caps on awards for plaintiffs in malpractice cases can severely limit the amount of money awarded in when filing a case due to brain damage in the newborn and other injuries that occur. Fortunately for many of these cases, the Supreme Courts in their states are striking down the caps to prevent unfair constraints on the awards provided by juries of their peers.

Several cases have benefited from this as it happens.

Families who suffered birth injuries saw their awards capped, but won their cases on appeal

The family of Abigaile LeBron sued for medical malpractice in Illinois after the child suffered brain injuries. A damage cap that was set in 2005 reduced the award received by her family, but Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane Larsen ruled that the cap was unconstitutional. The case went to the Illinois Supreme Court and, in a 4-2 ruling, they ruled the cap on damages in medical malpractice cases was unconstitutional and violated the separation of powers between the branches of government—judicial and legislative.

In another case in Missouri, Deborah Watts filed a lawsuit alleging a birth injury to her son Naython. The baby had been born with catastrophic brain injuries in 2006 and Watts claimed that the medical staff at Cox South Hospital were negligent and delayed an emergency C-section. She was awarded $5 million in damages by a jury, but the Missouri caps on malpractice awards reduced the amount of pain and suffering damages (non-economic) to $350,000.

On July 31, 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the cap because, it infringes on the jury’s rights under the constitution to determine the amount of damages sustained by the injured party.

These cases and others open the door for cerebral palsy victims and other plaintiffs to receive the entire awards they receive from a jury.

Other states are following suit in hearing cases to eliminate caps on awards

It’s not only birth injury cases that are relevant. In Georgia, plaintiff Betty Nestlehutt and her husband sued Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery due to malpractice in surgery performed on Betty Nestlehutt’s face. Her husband received $250,000 due to loss of consortium. She received $900,000 for pain and suffering, and $115,000 for medical expenses. The cap implemented in 2005 reduced all but medical expenses to $350,000. She appealed the case and the Supreme Court ruled 7-0 in her favor stating that the caps interfered with her right to a jury trial.

In Indiana, Thomas Plank is appealing the still-in-place caps and the Indiana Supreme Court is reviewing his case. Plank’s wife died due to an overlooked bowel obstruction, but his $8.5 million award was reduced to $1.25 million.

In Florida, the Supreme Court is hearing a similar case.

The end of malpractice caps will benefit plaintiffs in new cases of birth injuries and other problems

With these caps being struck down in multiple states, more plaintiffs are encouraged to come forward with their potential cases and speak to an experienced attorney such as those at Balkin & Eisbrouch.

Birth injuries can cause serious pain and suffering and lifelong need for care for the victims of medical mistakes that cause them. Consulting an attorney is sometimes the only option for families who have suffered in this way.

The attorneys at Balkin & Eisbrouch are pleased that the state courts are taking this step to prevent the limiting of awards to people who need and deserve them.