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. 27 (1992).
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.