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June 23rd, 2011

West Virginia Court Upholds Limit on Pain & Suffering Awards in Medical Liability Lawsuits

Joining a growing majority of state high courts that have done so, West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals yesterday reaffirmed the constitutionality of the state’s reasonable limit on inherently subjective awards for pain and suffering in medical liability lawsuits. 

The much anticipated opinion closely tracks a persuaive friend of the court brief submitted last October by the West Virginia Medical Association, the West Virginina Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association and many other allied doctor and hospital groups. 

A particularly salient paragraph from the court’s decision puts the issue of limiting noneconomic damages in broader national context and reads as follows: 

While there was a fairly even split among jurisdictions that had considered the constitutionality of caps on noneconomic damages at the time Robinson was decided, now only a few states have declared such caps unconstitutional. Moreover, most of those jurisdictions that have done so have based their decision on a constitutional provision providing that “the right to trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”  As discussed above, such analysis is not persuasive in this jurisdiction. Only in rare instances have courts found that such caps violate equal protection provisions.  Our decision today places West Virginia squarely with the majority of jurisdictions in holding that caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases are constitutional.

Read more details and background on this important “Point of Light” case in coverage by the Charleston Daily Mail.

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