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Idaho Cap on Non-Economic Damages: Immoral & Inhumane

On Behalf of | Oct 2, 2020 | Firm News

Created: 02 October 2020

Idaho’s statutory “cap” on non-economic damages is here:

It is currently $386,622.39 and amounts to a government imposed limit, sought after by the insurance industry, on the freedom to have a jury decide the limit for injury victims here in Idaho. Absent a showing of reckless conduct, discussed below, special interest lobbies in Idaho have thus limited pain and suffering for someone, by way of example, paralyzed for life by another’s negligence to about $380,000 under the current formula. This is immoral and unjust as that figure comes nowhere close to the fair-trade value for such harm. Absent a showing of recklessness, for another example, a family who loses their young child due to negligence of another is limited to $380,000 per claimant for loss of a loved one. This is inhumane as that figure does not remotely balance the scales of justice for such a loss. What those who insure and defend negligent actors have attempted to do is take from Idaho citizens the right to dole out justice in accordance with the true human harms and losses. What this has really done, as discussed below, is shift the margin of debate to the issue of reckless conduct.

The cap applies on a per-claimant basis, in other words, to each plaintiff separately. Historically, the defense industry in Idaho had taken the loathsome position that the cap was per lawsuit, regardless of the number of injured victims. It took a trip to the Idaho Supreme Court to set the insurance industry straight on what was obvious to reasonable individuals from the start of this very unreasonable limit on jury damage awards.

The cap is lifted and does not apply in cases where reckless conduct is shown and found by the jury at trial, as per Idaho Code §6-1603. In this sense, the cap really is not a cap at all in the event there is reckless conduct at issue. In cases where there is reckless conduct, it is a misrepresentation for the defense to claim that the “cap” is the “maximum allowed” by law. If the cap is lifted, there is no maximum. The days have long past where cases are settled without the defense paying a premium on cases where there is a material likelihood a jury will find reckless conduct, given the enormity of exposure such a finding poses for the defendant (possibly in excess of the defendant’s liability insurance policy limits).

Idaho Code §6-1601(10) defines reckless conduct as “conduct in which a person makes a conscious choice as to the person’s course of conduct under circumstances in which the person knows or should know that such conduct both creates an unreasonable risk of harm to another and involves a high probability that such harm will actually result.t.”

The Idaho Supreme Court has routinely upheld cases wherein Idaho’s cap on general damages was lifted by the jury finding reckless conduct in cases involving medical malpractice and personal injury. Of course, given the facts, juries are willing to label reckless conduct as such, and award far in excess of the artificial damages limit set by statute as a result of special interest lobbies, ranging from liability insurers, healthcare insurers, and hospital and healthcare associations – which is really what the arbitrary statutory cap was designed to protect at the expense of victims of negligent conduct. There have been numerous cases in Idaho wherein juries have sided with claimants found reckless conduct, such that the statutory cap on general damages was lifted, including in reported cases with total damages ranging from $3 million to nearly $8 million. So, although insurance companies, corporations, hospitals, and healthcare providers often like to invoke and hide behind what is really an immoral and inhumane statute, all the while claiming to be benevolent, Idaho juries are not afraid to do the right thing and find reckless conduct where the facts support it, especially in the medical malpractice and serious personal injury context.