Academic journal article Journal of Risk and Insurance

Damages Cap Survives Constitutional Challenges

Academic journal article Journal of Risk and Insurance

Damages Cap Survives Constitutional Challenges

Article excerpt

Maryland's highest court upheld a $350,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering over challenges based on rights to equal protection guarantees and jury trial. In this case, Sarah Murphy suffered injuries when her car was struck by a truck driven by Richard Edmonds. A tire failure caused the accident, and other evidence indicated that the truck driver was speeding and failed to properly inspect the tire. In addition to significant economic damages, the jury also awarded Murphy $510,000 in noneconomic damages for pain and suffering. The trial judge refused to reduce the award to the limit under state law of $350,000, concluding that the cap was a violation of the state's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The driver and his employer appealed. To support the judgment in her favor, Murphy raised two arguments. First, she claimed that the statute violated her right of equal protection. Second, she argued the cap also deprived her of her right to jury trial. The court of appeals rejected both arguments and reversed.

The court first considered the constitutionality of the cap under equal protection standards. Murphy argued that the cap created two classes of injured people. Less injured people could recover the full amount of their noneconomic damages. More injured people recovered less than their full amount of damages. The court recognized that the statute created a classification and then reviewed the various levels of review.

In equal protection cases, courts apply several different kinds of review depending on the kind of interest that is affected. The usual test asks whether there is a rational basis between the classification and the goal of the legislature. To fail, the legislation must be arbitrary. On the other hand, the courts will apply strict scrutiny if the classification affects a suspect class (for example, race) or a fundamental right (the right to vote). …

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