Supreme Court overturns lower courts, reduces verdict from $1.5 million to $200,000.00
Myriam Velez sued her doctor, Martin Tuma, M.D., after her leg was amputated. She claimed that Tuma's negligent delay in treating her leg caused the amputation. Detroit Receiving Hospital paid Velez a settlement of $195,000.00 but Tuma's insurance carrier took the case to trial, where the jury rendered a verdict that totalled just over $1.5 million dollars. The trial judge applied a credit for the prior settlement and then reduced the verdict to the tort reform "cap" on non-economic damages, which was $394, 200.00 in this case.
Tuma's insurer appealed arguing that the cap should have been applied the final judgment, rather than to the jury's verdict. Ms. Velez's attorneys cross-appealed and argued that Tuma should not have received a credit for the settlement from Receiving Hospital. The Court of Appeals rejected both parties' appeal arguments. It held that the limit to "one recovery" required a credit for any prior settlement against the injured party's total damages, but it also held that the "cap" only limited the amount that Tuma was required to pay.Tuma then appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. It originally refused to hear the appeal, but last year the Republican majority of the Court reconsidered and decided to hear Tuma's insurer's appeal. This week, the same majority concluded that the Legislature impliedly over-ruled the common law and intended the "cap" on non-economic damages to limit a party's entire recovery--even if it was less than the total damages. It ruled, contrary to pre-existing law and the holding of the lower courts, that the credit for a prior settlement should be applied against the "cap" rather than applying the third-party credit against the jury's assessment of damages. As a result, the woman whose leg was amputated as a result of negligence will recover only $394,000.00, rather than the $1.5 million dollars that the jury awarded.
Once again, the special interests who contributed millions to the election of Supreme Court candidates achieved the result they paid for.