In 2002, Mississippi passed a law limiting medical malpractice noneconomic damages to just $500,000. The Supreme Court just upheld a family’s damages of more than $2 million. They lost their son, Cameron Hill, to birth injuries caused by a doctor’s negligent actions.
Mississippi’s Noneconomic Damages Cap
Several states limit how much a plaintiff can recover in damages in a medical malpractice case. The caps do not affect economic damages, things like medical bills, and costs of care. They limit the damages related to pain and suffering.
The purpose of these caps is to reduce medical malpractice insurance costs for physicians and hospitals. In turn, this is supposed to keep medical care costs reasonable for patients. Critics of the laws believe it is unfair to deprive people of this type of compensation, especially in cases of catastrophic harm.
Mississippi passed its cap on noneconomic damages in 2002. The cap was set to go into effect after September 1, 2002. The legislature amended the law in 2004 and set a new date for the application of the cap: September 1, 2004.
Birth Injuries Lead to Death
Cameron Hill was born in 2002 and died in 2007. The Hill family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. B. Michael Weber and his practice in Laurel, Mississippi, in December 2002.
In the lawsuit, the family argued that Dr. Weber should have performed a C-section several hours before Cameron was born. Due to complications, Cameron was deprived of oxygen and was born with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
HIE is a neurological condition that causes disabilities like cerebral palsy. Cameron’s disabilities were so severe that he didn’t survive them. A jury agreed with the family’s legal team that a more timely C-section would most likely have given Cameron a better outcome. Dr. Weber should have noted the complications and acted more quickly.
Supreme Court Upholds Damages
A jury in the original trial awarded the Hills a total of $4 million in damages, including $2.5 million in noneconomic damages. The court reduced the latter to $500,000 in accord with the damages cap.
The defendants requested a new trial, and the case went all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The court agreed that the defendants were liable, but it also addressed the noneconomic damages.
The Hills filed the lawsuit nearly two months after the original cap on damages went into effect. Based on the later amendment, their lawyers argued that their damages award should not have been reduced. The court agreed and found that the more recent effective date of September 1, 2004, should apply in this case. It ordered the damages to revert to the original $2.5 million.
Many states have passed damages caps, but they don’t always hold. In several states, lawsuits challenged the caps and won, with the state courts determining the caps are unconstitutional. This hasn’t happened yet in Mississippi, but future victims of negligence may be able to overturn an unjust limitation.