There is no objectively fair way for juries to put a monetary value on an individual’s pain and suffering. Such awards vary drastically, often depending on whether a jury finds a particular plaintiff sympathetic, or how effective the plaintiff ’s attorney is in exhorting the jury to “send a message” by harshly punishing the defendant. These inherently subjective awards, while a windfall for those who receive them, nonetheless pose less positive consequences for society. Doctors find that they cannot provide needed services ranging from trauma care to delivery of babies due to the high price of insurance. High awards can bankrupt individuals and small businesses for a regrettable accident. For those reasons and others, many states have placed upper limits on pain and suffering awards. These limits do not take away from an injured person’s right to recoup their costs for medical care, lost wages and domestic services, or other readily calculable expenses.
This year, Maryland’s highest court upheld the state’s limit on noneconomic damages, which currently stands at $720,000 and increases annually with inflation. The Maryland Court of Appeals reaffirmed a prior ruling in which it found that “obviously a legitimate legislative objective” is “assur[ing] the availability of sufficient liability insurance, at a reasonable cost, in order to cover claims for personal injuries to members of the public. . . . A cap on noneconomic damages may lead to greater ease in calculating premiums, thus making the market more attractive to insurers, and ultimately may lead to reduced premiums, making insurance more affordable for individuals and organizations performing needed services.”
The reasonableness shown by jurists in the relatively low-unemployment state of Maryland stands in stark contrast to those sitting on state supreme courts in two high-unemployment states: Illinois (home to perennial Judicial Hellholes) and Georgia. Justices on both courts this year struck down statutory limits on awards for pain and suffering, bucking a trend among other state courts and replacing the policy judgments of elected legislators and governors with their own. West Virginia’s high court is currently considering a challenge to that state’s limit on noneconomic damages, and the much-anticipated decision will indicate that court’s willingness, or lack thereof, to help counter its state’s well-deserved reputation among the worst Judicial Hellholes.