Originally posted at the Dallas Morning News:
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Texas law limiting noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases to $250,000 is constitutional.
The decision, applauded by tort reform advocates and denounced by trial lawyers and victims of medical malpractice, ends a four-year legal battle over whether the Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003 violated the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap of Marshall decided it did not. In a one-page order, the judge simply accepted an earlier recommendation by a magistrate judge that the law be upheld.
“This ruling is a welcome and timely reminder that, under our Constitution, the states have an important role to play in improving access to health care,” said James Ho, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Ho was Texas solicitor general in 2009 when the case was originally argued.
The state law capped at $250,000 the amount that plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases could be awarded for pain and suffering, emotional distress or loss of quality of life.
Gov. Rick Perry, during his failed presidential run, frequently touted the law as being pro-business and helping to lower insurance premiums for doctors. Studies are mixed regarding its success.
A group of medical malpractice victims sued in 2008, claiming that the damage award limits violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibition against the state taking private property not for public use and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers believed their chances of winning their case improved when Gilstrap, an Obama appointee, took over the case last year.
“This is a very surprising and disappointing decision because the law is such an overreach,” said Paula Sweeney, a prominent Dallas trial lawyer.
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