The Cap: Montana’s Medical Malpractice Verdict Limits Spark Controversy and Ethical Dilemmas

GREAT FALLS, Montana – Montana residents who suffer from medical malpractice face a significant hurdle when seeking compensation for their pain and suffering. Montana Code Annotated 25-9-411, also known as “The Cap,” limits the amount a person can receive for their pain and suffering in a medical malpractice case to $250,000. This cap applies even in cases of permanent severe damage or death.

One such case that brought attention to The Cap was Zahara vs. Advanced Neurology Specialists. Joey Zahara, a resident of Great Falls, claimed that Dr. William Henning had neglected to treat him after he had suffered a stroke, despite being the on-call physician. The case went to trial, and the jury ultimately awarded Zahara $6 million in damages.

However, just 13 days after the verdict, the defense filed a motion to reduce the award to the maximum allowed by The Cap. This constitutional limit has raised questions about the role of juries in deciding the outcome of medical malpractice cases.

Critics argue that The Cap undermines the principle of jury decisions being reflective of the community’s conscience. They believe that the legislature has taken away the jury’s power by imposing a maximum limit on damages. The intention behind The Cap was to attract doctors to Montana by assuring them that their malpractice insurance premiums would decrease. However, medical professionals argue that this has not been the case.

In the 30 years since The Cap was implemented, it has never been challenged in the Montana Supreme Court. Critics suggest that insurance companies do not want the cap to be overturned, as they can negotiate settlements below the maximum limit. Challenging The Cap would mean risking a potential ruling by the court that upholds the $250,000 cap.

Opponents argue that The Cap is unconstitutional, as it contradicts Article 2, Section 16 of Montana’s Constitution, which guarantees full legal redress for injuries inflicted by another person. They believe that the cap renders the jury’s decision ineffective in providing full compensation to victims.

Furthermore, the impact of The Cap goes beyond limiting compensation. It has also resulted in lower settlement offers from insurance companies, as they rely on the knowledge that the maximum they will be liable for is $250,000. In the period from 2012 to 2018, only 0.7% of medical malpractice claims filed in Montana went to trial.

The debate surrounding The Cap continues, with trial lawyers and medical professionals advocating for its repeal. However, until the Montana Supreme Court hears a case challenging the constitutionality of The Cap, victims of medical malpractice will continue to face obstacles in receiving full compensation for their injuries.

In conclusion, Montana’s medical malpractice laws, specifically The Cap, limit the amount that victims can receive for their pain and suffering. Critics argue that this undermines the role of juries in deciding the outcome of cases and hinders victims from receiving full legal redress. The cap has also led to lower settlement offers from insurance companies, further disadvantaging victims. The debate surrounding The Cap raises questions about the balance between protecting doctors from excessive damages and ensuring fair compensation for victims.