Malpractice Damages Law Ruled Unconstitutional in North Dakota

January 12, 2018

A state district judge has ruled that North Dakota’s law limiting damages in medical malpractice cases is unconstitutional.

The case involved a 35-year-old Fort Yates woman who suffered a disabling stroke in 2012 due to a botched surgery at CHI St. Alexius Health in Bismarck.

Dr. Allen Michael Booth was found to have negligently performed a surgery on Chenille Condon.

Last April, a jury awarded Condon $3.5 million, and $2 million of that amount was designated for economic losses, including medical expenses and lost earnings. She was awarded $1.5 million for non-economic damages, including suffering, physical impairment and emotional distress.

South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland has denied a motion from CHI St. Alexius Health to reduce the jury’s verdict under a law that puts a $500,000 limit on non-economic damages, the Bismarck Tribune reported . The hospital sought to reduce Condon’s non-economic damages by $1 million.

Feland ruled the 1995 law violates equal protection guaranteed by the state constitution by arbitrarily reducing damages for people who suffer the most severe injuries.

Feland wrote that the law’s legislative record offered no explanation for how the $500,000 cap was chosen or how it would accomplish the Legislature’s health care reform goals.

“The greater the harm caused by the negligent doctor, the greater the discount,” said Tom Conlin, Condon’s attorney. “The cap fell hardest on stay-at-home moms, the young and those who couldn’t prove large economic loss.”

CHI St. Alexius Health said on Tuesday that it’s exploring legal options.

Conlin said he expects the hospital to seek a new trial.

“They first wanted a discount off the verdict,” said Conlin.”Now, they’re going to attempt to have the verdict thrown out.”

The state was added as a defendant in the case. It’s unknown whether North Dakota will appeal.

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