North Dakota Law Limiting Medical Malpractice Damages Ruled Unconstitutional

A North Dakota law limiting damages in medical malpractice cases has been ruled unconstitutional by a judge.

South Central Judicial District Judge Cynthia Feland rejected a motion to reduce a jury’s verdict in a case involving a woman who was disabled after surgery at CHI St. Alexis Health hospital.

The plaintiff, Chenille Condon, was awarded $3.5 million in damages by a jury last April. The jury found that Dr. Allen Michael Booth, thoracic surgeon, negligently performed surgery on Condon in 2012 that caused a serious stroke.

Condon suffered a stroke during a lymph node biopsy after Booth accidentally cut the main artery that supplies blood to the brain. The stroke left the 35-year-old with limited use of her left arm and virtually no use of her left hand. She now walks with a limp, and the brain injury is expected to worsen over time.

Condon’s lawyers also argued that her injury caused her to fall behind in school, where she was nutrition student.

The jury determined that Condon deserved $1.5 million in noneconomic damages for physical impairment, pain, emotional distress and suffering. They also determined that she deserved $2 million for economic losses, including lost earnings and medical expenses.

The hospital filed a motion to reduce the jury award for noneconomic damages by $1 million under a North Dakota law that limits these types of damages by $500,000.

Judge Feland ruled the law unconstitutional, stating that it violated the equal protection guaranteed by the state constitution by arbitrarily limiting damages for victims of the most severe injuries.

After reviewing the legislative record of the law, Feland determined that the law was based on speculation and assumption rather than evidence. The record had no explanation on why the $500,000 figure was chosen, or how the limit would accomplish the health care reform goals of limiting costs, increasing access or improving quality.