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Texas caps on pain, suffering awards ruled constitutional


MARSHALL, Texas—A 2003 Texas law that caps pain and suffering awards in health care lawsuits is constitutional, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

According to court papers, plaintiffs in the case, Emma Watson et al. vs. Gregory Hortman M.D. et al., claimed the Texas statutory cap on noneconomic damages in health care liability actions, which was enacted as part of the state's Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003, was unconstitutional.

The Austin, Texas-based Texas Alliance for Patient Access, a statewide coalition that defended the cap, in a statement said the legislation limits awards in medical lawsuits for hard-to-quantify injuries such as mental anguish, emotional distress or loss of companionship to between $250,000 and $750,000, depending upon the defendants in the suit. Medical costs and lost wages remain uncapped. The TAPA said 26 other states limited pain and suffering awards in 2003 as well.

Judge Rodney Gilstrap in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall said he based his one-page ruling on the recommendations in a Sept. 13, 2010, report by Magistrate Judge Charles Everingham.

The lawsuit originally was filed in 2008, according to the TAPA. The group said in its statement that Judge Gilstrap’s ruling dismissed the remaining two claims in the suit: that a cap on damages unconstitutionally takes private property, and that the cap bars access to the courts.

“The court’s decision removes any lingering uncertainty about the voter-approved cap on noneconomic damages,” Mike Hull, the TAPA’s general counsel, said in the group’s statement. “A trial lawyer victory would have gutted the benefits of reform and been a big blow to the delivery of health care.”

The plaintiffs attorney in the case could not immediately be reached for comment.