A Texas law that limits awards for pain and suffering in health care lawsuits is constitutional, a federal judge ruled March 27.
U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap's one-page ruling stated that all claims by the plaintiffs were denied, which lets the state's 2003 cap on noneconomic damages stand.
The cap limits lawsuit awards for hard-to-quantify injuries, such as mental anguish, emotional distress or loss of companionship, to $250,000 to $750,000, depending on the defendant, according to the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, a coalition that defended the cap. Medical costs and lost wages remain uncapped.
Ten plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit in 2008 claiming the state's noneconomic cap violates the U.S. Constitution. Among the plaintiffs was the family of the late Dallas Cowboys football player Ron Springs, who died after a four-year coma triggered by a loss of oxygen during a 2007 operation.
Health care providers who sought to enforce the damage cap and more than 600 Texas trial court judges who are required to enforce the damage limits were named in the lawsuit. The judge removed those parties from the suit.
The Texas Legislature passed the cap in 2003, and state voters affirmed lawmakers' authority to set the cap later that year. Before passage of the cap, many Texas doctors had seen their insurance costs double and many had stopped taking emergency calls, or restricted their practice out of fear it would make them vulnerable to a lawsuit, the Texas Alliance for Patient Access said. Liability insurance rates for physicians have been cut in half since the cap was passed, and the number of practicing physicians has grown faster than the state's population every year since 2007, according to the alliance.