Top Maryland Court Upholds Cap on Pain and Suffering Awards

Maryland’s highest court upheld the state’s limit on jury awards for pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits Friday.

The 6-1 decision by the Court of Appeals was made in a case that slashed a jury award from $4 million to about $1 million to the Davidsonville parents of a 5-year-old boy who drowned in 2006 in a Crofton swimming pool.

The limits that were first enacted 25 years ago amid arguments that high awards threaten the affordability of insurance for businesses and discourage physicians from entering high-risk specialties. Opponents of the limits will be disappointed that accountability of those who wreck others’ lives has now been severely compromised.

Insurance companies, however, are happy to be off the hook.

“We are glad to see that the court reaffirmed that the legislature had a good reason for ensuring that noneconomic damage awards stay within reasonable bounds,” said Cary Silverman, an attorney for 10 business and insurance groups — the U.S. and Maryland Chambers of Commerce among them — that filed a brief in this case to urge the court not to abandon the damage limits.

“I think if the court had struck down the cap, what you would see is significantly higher personal injury awards based on various subjective reasoning. What happens due to that is you’ll have higher insurance premiums. It affects just about everyone, from small business owners to consumers,” he said.

Maryland does not limit economic damages, such as for medical bills or lost income. The restrictions apply only to noneconomic damages: anguish, pain and suffering. In Maryland, the limits vary depending on the year and type of case. The cap was $665,000 when Connor Freed drowned.

The ruling was not unexpected. The top court upheld the cap in 1992 and 1995, finding that it was constitutional; Friday’s opinion notes that the majority of the judges saw no reason to dump their previous affirmations of the law. The court recently also upheld applying limits in consumer protection and medical liability cases.

The rationale, said Steven R. Migdal, lawyer for DRD Pool Service, was “because that’s the law in Maryland, there’s no reason to overturn it.” He said he and his clients were pleased with the decision.

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