The Utah Supreme Court released a decision earlier this month that struck down a statutory limit on non-economic damages in medical malpractice actions that result from a wrongful death, ruling that the cap on damages violated a provision of the Utah Constitution. In the case of Smith v. the United States, the Utah Supreme Court held that the cap on non-economic damages that is contained in the Utah Health Care Malpractice Act is unconstitutional as applied to cases alleging medical malpractice that results in death.
The Court found that a state constitutional provision forbidding the legislature from abrogating the recovery amount for wrongful death applies to malpractice actions that arise from a death. As a result of the ruling, Utah medical malpractice plaintiffs who allege that a defendant’s malpractice resulted in the death of a victim cannot have their awards reduced by the limit on non-economic damages contained in the Malpractice Act.
What are Non-Economic Damages?
Non-economic damages are awarded to plaintiffs to compensate them for non-economic losses related to the negligent or willful conduct of another. Economic losses include medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, funeral bills, lost wages and potential earnings, future care costs, and other damages that can be clearly reduced to a number based on the “cost” of the injury to the victim or plaintiff.
Non-economic damages offer compensation for the negative effects of an injury that can't be easily reduced to a dollar amount. In the case of medical malpractice actions, non-economic damages include inconvenience, disfigurement, and “pain and suffering,” as well as the loss of the companionship and future care of a loved one who is left disabled or deceased because of the negligence of a professional medical provider.
The Illinois Non-Economic Damages Cap
Just as the Utah legislature did in 1986, many states have enacted laws that limit the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff in a medical malpractice action. In Illinois, the legislature imposed a total limit on non-economic damages of $500,000 against a single doctor or $1,000,000 against a hospital or medical facility. This limit applies if wrongful death is alleged as a result of malpractice, and it represents the total amount that the victim, their estate, and any beneficiaries can receive in non-economic damages from a malpractice action. This limit was challenged underÂ the Illinois Constitution in the 2010 case of LeBron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. The Illinois Supreme Court, like the Utah Court, ruled that the cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice actions was a violation of the state constitution. The Illinois ruling went even further than the recent Utah decision, striking down limits on non-economic damages for all malpractice cases, including those not arising from a death.
The Effect of the State Court Decisions
The rulings in Smith v. the United States and LeBron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital are only controlling law in the states where they were handed down, Utah and Illinois. The decisions do not affect non-economic damages limits in other states, although several other states do have similar provisions in their constitutions to the Utah provision that was used to invalidate the damages cap. Whether limits on non-economic damages are struck down in other states or remain in force, it is important for victims of medical malpractice to understand that even in states with seemingly low limits on non-economic damages in malpractice actions, a skilled medical malpractice attorney can obtain a significant award of both economic and non-economic damages, and it is possible for malpractice victims to be fairly compensated for their loss, even with a damages cap.
Are You a Victim of Medical Malpractice?
If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, the first step to being fairly compensated is consulting an experienced Illinois medical malpractice attorney to discuss your case. The dedicated malpractice attorneys at the Cavanagh Law Group know how to hold negligent doctors and other medical providers accountable for the harm that they cause to our clients. We will take your case seriously, and our skilled Illinois malpractice lawyers will work tirelessly to help you get the recovery that you are entitled to. At the Cavanagh Law Group, we represent clients in most medical malpractice, personal injury, and wrongful death cases.