Summer 2018

Statutory Cap on Non-Economic Damages Applies to Intentional Torts: Rodriguez v. Cooper

Courts in Maryland apply a cap on awards of non-economic damages in tort actions. This cap is set pursuant to a statute and is determined based on the date of loss giving rise to the lawsuit. In Rodriguez v. Cooper, the Court of Appeals of Maryland had occasion to address the limits of this cap on non-economic damages, explicitly holding for the first time that the statutory cap on non-economic damages applies to intentional torts and gross negligence.

 In Rodriguez, an inmate was murdered by a fellow inmate in transit to another facility. The murder took place in the presence of two other inmates and five correctional officers, including Sgt. Larry Cooper. The inmate’s estate and parents brought suit in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, alleging various state and federal claims against the State, several officials of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and the five correctional officers. The plaintiffs obtained a judgment against the State and Sgt. Cooper, finding that Sgt. Cooper was grossly negligent. The Circuit Court limited the judgment against Sgt. Cooper pursuant to the cap on non-economic damages. Following an appeal process, the issue of the cap’s application to gross negligence was presented to the Maryland Court of Appeals for consideration.

The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the statutory cap did not apply to intentional torts. The Court initially questioned the plaintiffs’ premise that “grossly negligent” conduct qualified as “intentional tort.” Yet, even accepting that premise, the Court looked to the entire statutory text and found that the statutory cap applies “[i]n any action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death.” The Court noted that nothing in the statutory text “limits the purview of the statute with respect to judgments arising from intentional actions or gross negligence.” The Court further examined the legislative history behind the enactment of the statute finding the cap applies to any “action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death.”

This is an important decision for the insurance industry and defense bar for handling claims involving intentional torts and gross negligence. While clarifying the outer limits of a relevant statute, it also provides certainty in addressing potential exposure and verdict ranges in all tort cases.

For more information about this article, please contact Thomas Morris at 410.230.3575.