The Cap Continues

One of the most controversial aspects of personal injury law is the so-called cap on non-economic damages — the amount plaintiffs may recover to compensate for pain and suffering, separate from medical expenses or other financial damages. Rules vary widely from state to state, and are challenged regularly by groups on both sides of the argument.  One side asserts that caps keep insurance costs down and prevent juries from awarding unreasonable sums out of sympathy, while the other side complains that caps deprive those with the most serious injuries of fair compensation for their suffering.

Maryland has enforced a cap on non-economic damages for over 25 years, rising by $15,000 each year to its current level of $770,000 for individual claims ($710,000 for medical malpractice suits).

The law has been challenged several times — most recently in 2010, by a couple whose son drowned in a country club swimming pool. The jury awarded the couple over $4 million, but the amount was reduced to about $1 million under a special cap that applies in wrongful death suits with two or more beneficiaries.

The couple appealed the ruling. But, unlike recent cases in Illinois and Georgia that overturned the caps in those states, the Maryland appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the cap for the third time since it was enacted.

The ruling was a victory for business and insurance groups and a disappointment for personal injury victims and their attorneys. But you can bet that is not the last we will hear about the battle of the cap.

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