On March 8, 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia heard oral argument on a constitutional challenge to the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act's ("MPLA") limit on "noneconomic" damages, or what is commonly known as damages for "pain and suffering". In MacDonald v. City Hospital, Inc. and Sayeed Ahmed., M.D., plaintiffs have challenged the constitutionality of West Virginia Code § 55-7B-8 of the MPLA, which generally limits noneconomic damage awards in medical professional liability actions to $250,000. Under West Virginia Code § 55-7B-8, the limit or “cap” increases to $500,000 in three circumstances: wrongful death; “permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb or loss of a bodily organ system”; or “permanent physical or mental functional injury that permanently prevents the injured person from being able to independently care for himself or herself and perform life sustaining activities.”
Plaintiff James MacDonald developed rhabdomyolisis while under the care of Dr. Ahmed at City Hospital. Mr. MacDonald claimed the defendants failed to recognize, diagnose and treat the symptoms of his rhabdomyolisis, which resulted in permanent injury. Mr. MacDonald's wife Debbie MacDonald also asserted a loss of consortium claim against the defendants. At trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, assessing liability as 70% to Dr. Ahmed and 30% to City Hospital, and awarded $1 million to Mr. MacDonald for noneconomic loss, as reflected in the jury verdict form below. The jury also awarded $500,000 in noneconomic damages to Mrs. MacDonald for her loss of consortium, resulting in a total award of $1.5 million in noneconomic damages.
On post-trial motions, the circuit court reduced the jury’s verdict of $1.5 million in noneconomic damages to $500,000, pursuant to West Virginia Code § 55-7B-8 of the MPLA, rejecting the plaintiffs’ claim that the "cap" is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, claiming that the "cap" violates numerous provisions of the West Virginia Constitution, including the equal protection, jury trial right, separation of powers, access to the courts, and certain remedy provisions.
Thomas J. Hurney, Jr., a member of Jackson Kelly, PLLC, represented City Hospital in the appeal and during oral argument before the Supreme Court of Appeals, which was held at the West Virginia University College of Law. A decision is expected from the Court in the coming months.