New Mexico Supreme Court upholds non-medical damages cap in malpractice suits | National News
(The Center Square) – The New Mexico Supreme Court has upheld a cap on non-medical liability damages as constitutional.
A friend of the court brief was filed with the high court in response to a lower court upholding a jury award of $2.6 million in total damages, as reported by the American Medical Association (AMA).
The brief, filed by the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies and the New Mexico Medical Society (NMMS), won a ruling from the state Supreme Court stating the cap on non-economic damages does not violate a plaintiff’s right to a jury trial, but merely puts a limit on what can be awarded.
The court upheld the constitutionality of a cap itself but not a specific amount. Currently, the cap is at $600,000, per the state’s Medical Malpractice Act, but will be raised this year because of House Bill 75, according to New Mexico Health Care Association Executive Director Vicente Vargas.
In the brief, lawyers argued the cap is ultimately pro-consumer. Vargas agrees with this assessment.
“The cap was created as not just a cap to simply cap awards, but it’s a function of helping keep insurance costs and rates down,” he told The Center Square.
During the 1970s, the medical insurance landscape in New Mexico was dire, according to Vargas. Medical liability awards were so high few companies would even offer insurance and those that did set premiums sky high.
To answer the need for affordable insurance, a group of medical professionals with the help of the state set up what is essentially a self-insurance fund. No state funds are used; rather, the providers protected by the fund pay into it as well, Vargas said.
This fund, called the patient compensation fund, covers lifetime medical bills for anyone who experienced injury at the hands of any medical professionals who are a part of the fund.
Vargas points out the cap is really a means to an end.
“I don’t support the cap as much as I support the patient compensation fund, and the patient compensation fund in New Mexico will not exist if there is no cap – you can’t have a fund without a cap,” he said.
The medical malpractice case that originated the dispute involved New Mexican Susan Siebert, who suffered injuries to her uterus and intestines after a hysteroscopy, the AMA reported.