Monday, October 13, 2014

Judge decides state's cap on damages does not apply to case before him because apparently he just does not like it

The Journal Times is reporting that "[a] Milwaukee County circuit judge struck a blow for compassion and common sense last week when he . . .  affirmed a $25.3 million jury award in the case of a Milwaukee woman who lost all four of her limbs."  The story goes on to say that the judge said he was not striking down the 2006 state law that created a $750,000 cap on noneconomic awards for pain and suffering in malpractice cases, but held it shouldn’t apply in the case:
Although the cap may be constitutional as applied to medical malpractice victims as a whole, there is no rational justification for depriving Mrs. Mayo, who is in her mid-fifties, limbless and largely immobile, and Mr. Mayo” of the entire award, according to news reports. . . .   “This is not a runaway verdict. It is certainly not outrageous, and no one could seriously argue that it is not in proportion to Mrs. Mayo’s injuries,” 
If you follow this blog, you know I do not support caps on damages.  However, what the judge did here sounds wrong to me.  Judges can't pick and choose which laws apply to which cases before them.  If the law provides for exceptions, the judge can apply them.  If the law should be invalidated or declared unconstitutional, the judge should do that.  But a judge can't simply say a law does not apply to a plaintiff because the judge does not like the result.

I would understand the decision if the law in question stated that judges have discretion to apply the cap, or if it says that it should only apply to cases where the judgment is not in proportion to the value of the injuries, etc.  That would allow the judge to support his conclusion; but I don't know if the law says that.  If it doesn't it seems to me the judge acted outside his authority and the ruling could be reversed.

h/t The TortsProf blog

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