State Supreme Court Round-Up

June 6, 2019

ISMIE routinely monitors legal happenings across the United States. In recent weeks we’ve seen a mixed bag of high court hijinks. On the positive front, North Dakota physicians have peace of mind knowing the state’s non-economic damages cap remains the law of the land. Unfortunately, Oklahoma health professionals weren’t so lucky when damage caps were narrowly overturned, and Minnesotans saw a doozy of a decision that a doctor-patient relationship isn’t required for a lawsuit! Here’s the scoop. 

Minnesota: Physicians Can Be Sued Even WITHOUT a Physician-Patient Relationship 

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued an opinion last month that a physician can be sued by a patient even in the absence of a traditional physician-patient relationship.

The court held that: 
  1. A physician owes a duty of care to a third party when the physician acts in a professional capacity and it is reasonably foreseeable that the third party will rely on the physician's acts and be harmed by a breach of the standard of care; and 
  2. It was reasonably foreseeable that the patient in this case would rely on the hospitalist's acts and be harmed by a breach of the standard of care.
The medical community believes this opinion could expose physicians to an uptick in lawsuits.

North Dakota: A Win! $500,000 Cap on Non-Economic Damages Upheld 

In April, the North Dakota Supreme Court issued an opinion that upholds the state’s non-economic damage cap

In 1995, the North Dakota legislature enacted a law to cap non-economic damages at $500,000. At issue was whether the law violated the equal-protection provisions of the North Dakota constitution. The court ruled that it does not. 

Oklahoma: Losing a $350,000 Cap on Non-Economic Damages 

In a 5-4 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against upholding the state’s cap of $350,000 on non-economic damages for bodily injury. The reason for the ruling was that the caps only applied when the plaintiff survived the injury, while the estate of a person who died of their injury was not subject to the caps. The majority of the justices held that this different treatment of “similarly situated” people made the law a “special law,” which is impermissible under the Oklahoma constitution, and struck it down.  
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