In a unanimous decision on Friday, October 1, 2015, the Nevada Supreme Court (the Court) upheld as constitutional the state’s $350,000 statutory limitations on plaintiffs’ recovery of noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice or professional negligence suit.
In Tam v. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., 131 Nev. Adv. Op. 80 (Nev. Oct. 1, 2015), after the death of Charles Thomas Cornell, Sherry Cornell (individually, and as administrator of Mr. Cornell’s estate) filed a complaint against numerous defendants, including petitioner Stephen Tam, M.D., alleging medical malpractice. Dr. Tam filed a motion requesting in part that the Eighth Judicial District Court (district court) confirm that the Plaintiff’s noneconomic damages be capped pursuant to NRS 41A.035, which limits to $350,000 the recovery of a plaintiff’s noneconomic damages in a healthcare provider’s professional negligence action. The district court denied the motion, concluding that: (1) NRS 41A.035 is unconstitutional, as it violates a plaintiff’s constitutional right to trial by jury;(2) the statutory cap does not apply to the case as a whole, but a separate cap applies to each plaintiff for each of the defendants; and (3) the statutory cap does not apply to medical malpractice claims. Dr. Tam challenged the district court’s order, filing a petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the district court to vacate its order. The Court granted the petition in its entirety, holding that the district court erred in: (1) finding the statute unconstitutional; (2) finding the statutory cap applies per plaintiff and per defendant; and (3) finding the statute only applies to professional negligence and not to medical malpractice.