Caps to stay in West Virginia

West Virginia’s Supreme Court voted not to change its $500,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. The cap became law in 2003 when West Virginia adopted a series of medical malpractice reform laws designed to keep medical malpractice awards in check.

The recent ruling not to change the cap was in response to a malpractice suit appeal that originated in 2004. Patient James MacDonald, who had already undergone a kidney transplant and suffered from other medical conditions, was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia. He was treated with various medications that caused damage to MacDonald’s muscles, so he and his wife filed a suit against the hospital. A jury awarded MacDonald $1 million for pain and suffering and his wife $500,000, for a total of $1.5 million. Despite the jury’s decision, the state cap influenced a circuit court judge to reduce the $1.5 million award to $500,000.

The case traveled to the State Supreme Court when MacDonald’s attorneys appealed, arguing that the reduction of the award violated the right to trial by jury. Insurance companies, hospitals, and those in the medical field are probably rejoicing the upholding of the cap, but patients and attorneys are likely not celebrating. For more on this story, see this article.