Monday, March 25, 2013

Knowles v. United States case brief

Knowles v. United States case brief
544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996)

Plaintiff parents brought an action against defendant United States for medical malpractice, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. The United States admitted liability and invoked the $ 1 million cap on medical malpractice damages under S.D. Codified Laws § 21-3-11. The federal district court found the cap was constitutional. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit certified four questions to the court.

OVERVIEW: The parents son was admitted to the Air Force hospital for treatment of a fever. Specialists failed to report to nurses or physicians that the son's temperature had been dropping throughout the night and the son developed hypoglycemia, suffered respiratory arrest, and developed severe brain damage.

The court framed one issue as whether the damage limitation under § 21-3-11 was unconstitutional.

The court found that § 21-3-11 violated the S.D. Const. art. VI, § 6 guarantee of the right to a trial by jury because the amount of damages was a factual issue to be determined by the trier of fact.

-The statute also violated S.D. Const. art. VI, § 20, the open courts and remedy-for-injury provision by making doctors liable for only a portion of their negligence.
-Due process was also violated by the arbitrary classification of malpractice claimants based on the amount of damages.
-Next, the court held that a parent's claim of emotional distress or loss of consortium for injuries to a minor child was not recognized based on the court's analysis of common law.

OUTCOME: The court found that the damages cap was unconstitutional, but declined to recognize an action for loss of consortium or emotional distress.

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