Maryland to Triple or Reduce Non-Economic Damages? Two Bills with Competing Purposes
March 3, 2014 By Erin H. Cancienne
There are two important House Bills in this legislative session that could affect recovery of non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases in Maryland. Non-economic damages are damages that are not associated with a specific expense. For example, pain and suffering is considered non-economic damages. While the bills both affect non-economic damages, the purposes are at odds with each other.
House Bill 930 is intended to reduce non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. If this bill passes as it is currently written, the limit on non-economic damages for health care malpractice claims will be reduced from its current level of $740,000 to $500,000 for claims arising on or after October 1, 2014.
House Bill 1009 is intended to increase non-economic damages. Under this bill, if an injury in a health care malpractice case is considered “catastrophic”, then the non-economic damage limit will be tripled. The bill itself is troublesome because tripling the damage cap is significant and health care providers may be forced to obtain additiional insurance to cover these increased amounts. The bill’s definition of catastrophic injury is very broad and includes:
- Permanent Impairment including paralysis of a limb or the trunk
- Severe brain or closed head injury
- Severe injury to a major internal organ that interferes with the ability to perform activities of daily living or shortens life expectancy
- Loss of reproductive organs that results in inability to procreate
- Severe physical deformity
- Moderate to major burns
As this definition for catastrophic injury is very broad, there is a risk that almost every health care malpractice case will result in a finding of a catastrophic injury, and therefore, a massive non-economic damages limit.
While these bills could have major effects on the damages in medical malpractice cases, it is important to remember this is only the first step of new legislation. These bills both are scheduled for a hearing tomorrow, March 5, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. After the hearing, there may be committee reviews, voting, and potentially several revisions before a final vote is held, or the bills may stall and not go anywhere during this legislative session. As these bills progress through the General Assembly we will be tracking them closely. Be sure to regularly check our Blog for updates.