By: Allan M. Siegel
Non-economic damages are harms which, unlike medical bills, are unable
to be readily quantified and valued. Common non-economic damages include
disfigurement, pain and suffering, humiliation, and loss of companionship.
Basically, these damages are things that are extremely valuable but on
which you cannot put a price. The law provides individuals with a means
to seek redress against the wrongdoer who caused non-economic damages.
Some state legislatures have decided that they know better than a jury
and have decided to put limits on awards for non-economic damages. If
you or a loved one suffers a terrible injury in Maryland, the
state law will “cap” your recovery for noneconomic damages. For non-medical malpractice injury cases for injuries that happened after
October 1, 2015, Maryland law limits the recovery for non-economic damages
to $815,000. To account for inflation, the cap increases each year by
$15,000. If there are two or more claimants and the case is related to
a wrongful death, the limit rises to $1,222,500. Even though the cap is
a critical factor in calculating a potential recovery, Maryland law prohibits
lawyers from telling juries about this limitation.
Although the cap may appear impermeable and etched in stone, there are,
like so many legal areas, exceptions. For instance, the cap does not apply
to intentional torts. These torts are the kinds of wrongful acts involving
a high degree of intentionality on the part of the wrongdoer. A punch
in the face, false imprisonment, and stealing (in other words, often acts
rising to the level of criminality) are some examples of intentional torts.
A 1996 case addressed this question of whether the non-economic damages
cap applies to intentional torts. The case was originally filed after
a vicious family battle over the disposition of a decedent’s estate.
Just how vicious? Evidently one litigant watched The Godfather one too
many times and blocked the driveway of the decedent’s estate with
“a truckload of stone, timber, and severed deer heads.” It
gets worse from there and, needless to say, the court’s opinion
includes a plethora of non-family friendly quotes. It’s an interesting
read, but the important takeaway for Cole v. Sullivan is that the non-economic
damages cap in Maryland does not apply to intentional torts.
There are other potential wrinkles. The cap may not apply to claims for
loss of household services, which can be performed by hired services and
valued at market rates, because these losses are classified as economic
losses. Murphy v. Edmonds, 325 Md. 342 (1992). Another twist: the cap
on non-economic damages may not apply to some causes of action arising
out of personal injuries in other states, regardless whether the case
is tried in Maryland. Black v. Leatherwood Motor Coach Corp., 92 Md. App.
These and other exceptions to the cap may change as the Maryland court
system continually decides new cases. The personal injury attorneys of
Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. monitor the latest legal
developments and use this information in order to better serve their clients.
If you were seriously injured by the carelessness of another, we recommend
speaking with a qualified attorney in order to learn your rights and preserve any potential claims.