July 30, 2011

In a case decided by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia on June 22, 2011 (James D. MacDonald and Debbie MacDonald, his wife v. City Hospital, Inc. and Sayeed Ahmed, M.D.), the Court held that West Virginia Code Section 55-7B-8, which provides a $250,000.00 limit (cap) on the amount recoverable for noneconomic losses in a medical professional liability action in most cases, is constitutional and that it did not violate the West Virginia state constitutional right to a jury trial, separation of powers, or equal protection. The cap had been set at $1,000,000.00 since 1986 until it was reduced by the West Virginia State Legislature to $250,000.00 in 2003.

On July 21, 2011, one judge on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia filed a dissenting opinion in the MacDonald case.

The dissenting opinion stated, in part:

        The West Virginia Legislature made a purely political decision and violated the West Virginia Constitution when it drastically reduced the cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases from $1 million to $250,000, in most cases. 

         When the Legislature turns against its constituency in favor of pressure groups with selfish interests, it is the peoples’ right to seek help from their Supreme Court, and it is the duty of the judicial branch to exercise its proper role in the “separation of powers” to void legislation that violates the constitutional rights of its citizens.

          Malpractice victims’ damages may be primarily noneconomic with permanent disfigurement, maiming, and even death caused by a medical professional’s negligence. The capital facts of human suffering are hidden from our view. An unknown number of medical negligence victims can no longer use the court system because of the cap and the fact that lawyers are no longer willing to risk huge litigation expenses for a low net return for their clients and themselves. The cap deprives the injured of their right to full compensation for their injuries. But, in the most serious cases, it also deprives the injured person’s loved one-their caretakers-ALL of their damages.  

            Not affecting fundamental rights? The right to a jury trial is the most fundamental of our constitutional rights. Query: If a person has a right to a jury trial and the jury award is completely taken away, did that person have a court open to him for an injury done to him? Did he have a remedy? Was justice administered without denial? Did he have his constitutional right to a jury trial?…

            Not affecting fundamental rights? The right of equal treatment is also a very fundamental right. How can a damage cap that blatantly favors a special class of medical professionals by limiting or taking away the damages an injured person may recover from a medical professional be constitutional? No other person who negligently injures another person is given that unconstitutional protection. Would any West Virginia legislator suggest that lawyers be given that special protection? I doubt it.

             The resolution of the high insurance rate problem for medical professionals on the backs of completely innocent victims of medical professional negligence, a problem caused in part by a handful of incompetent medical professionals, is a resolution of one problem for a select group of people along suspect lines. The Legislature may have rationally believed that decreasing the cap on noneconomic damages would reduce medical malpractice premiums and solve the medical professions’ problem, but that does not mean that it had a right to solve the problem by stripping victims of medical malpractice of their right to adequate compensation for medical negligence that caused injuries, maiming, and death…

                This is what this case is really about.

                 It’s about constitutional choices. The Supreme Court had a choice to choose to declare this cap legislation unconstitutional. The Court had every right and a duty to do so.

                 It’s about our Supreme Court of Appeals not accepting that it is the principal expositor of our State Constitution; that it is an equal branch of government and not a minion to the Legislature. Our Court now appears to be a court obsessed with the belief that its role is to be the branch of government that always exercises due restraint when there is an issue involving the principle of the separation of powers in government among the judicial, legislative and executive branches. It now appears that the Court has become so concerned with being labeled an “activist court” and accused of not having any concern for business interests that it is now failing to fulfill its constitutional mandate to protect the rights of all West Virginians.

                  An essential function of the Supreme Court of Appeals is to choose among alternative interpretations of our State Constitution. The Legislature did exactly that when it imposed the previous $1,000,000 cap on noneconomic damage as part of the West Virginia Medical Malpractice Professional Liability Act of 1986, W. Va.Code Sections 55-7B-1 to -11. It made a choice to favor the medical profession over people who are injured by negligent professionals. 

Source: Dissent

The brilliantly reasoned and worded dissent in the MacDonald case effectively identifies the business interests that have swayed elected officials to favor them over the innocent victims of medical malpractice negligence and explains the important rights that have been violated.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical malpractice, you owe it to yourself to investigate and protect your rights to just compensation for your injuries and losses due to medical errors. Visit our website to be connected to medical malpractice lawyers in your area who may be able to assist you wth your medical malpractice claim. You may also contact us toll free at 800-295-3959. Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.