544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996), 18838, Matter of Certification of Questions of Law from United States Court of Appeals for Eighth Circuit, Pursuant to Provisions of SDCL 15-24A-1

Docket Nº18838.
Citation544 N.W.2d 183, 1996 SD 10
Opinion JudgeThe opinion of the court was delivered by: Sabers; Gilbertson
Party NameIn the MATTER OF the CERTIFICATION OF QUESTIONS OF LAW FROM the UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT, PURSUANT TO the PROVISIONS OF SDCL 15-24A-1, and concerning federal action. William KNOWLES and Jane Knowles, on behalf of themselves and as guardians of their minor son, Kris Knowles, Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defen
AttorneyJohn J. Delaney, Johnson Huffman, P.C., Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiffs.
Case DateJanuary 31, 1996
CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota

Page 183

544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996)

1996 SD 10

In the MATTER OF the CERTIFICATION OF QUESTIONS OF LAW FROM

the UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH

CIRCUIT, PURSUANT TO the PROVISIONS OF

SDCL 15-24A-1, and concerning

federal action.

William KNOWLES and Jane Knowles, on behalf of themselves

and as guardians of their minor son, Kris Knowles,

Plaintiffs,

v.

UNITED STATES of America, Defendant.

No. 18838.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

January 31, 1996

Original Proceeding

Argued Feb. 14, 1995.

Opinion of Gilbertson, J.

Page 184

John J. Delaney, Johnson Huffman, P.C., Rapid City, for plaintiffs.

Bonnie P. Ulrich, Craig Peyton Gaumer, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Office, Sioux Falls, for defendant.

Mark Barnett, Attorney General, Sherri Sundem Wald, Assistant Attorney General,

Page 185

Pierre, for Amicus Curiae State of South Dakota.

Timothy M. Engel of May, Adam, Gerdes & Thompson, Pierre, for Amicus Curiae South Dakota State Hospital Association and South Dakota State Medical Association.

¶1 Justice RICHARD W. SABERS delivers the majority opinion of the Court on the result of unconstitutionality of the damages cap of SDCL 21-3-11 based on due process and on questions 3 and 4.

¶2 Justice DAVID GILBERTSON delivers the majority opinion of the Court on the rationale for unconstitutionality and on the revival of the 1985 version of SDCL 21-3-11 and on question 2.

¶3 SABERS, Justice, writing the majority opinion on the result of unconstitutionality of the damages cap of SDCL 21-3-11 based on due process and on questions 3 and 4.

¶4 Parents brought suit for severe injuries suffered by minor son while under care of Air Force hospital. The United States admitted liability and invoked the $1 million cap on medical malpractice damages. The federal district court held the cap was constitutional under the South Dakota and United States Constitutions. On appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, four certified questions were presented and accepted by the South Dakota Supreme Court. For the reasons set forth herein, we hold that the damages cap of SDCL 21-3-11 is unconstitutional.

FACTS

¶5 Kris Knowles was twelve days old when he was admitted for treatment of a fever at the Ellsworth Air Force Base Hospital, near Rapid City, South Dakota. Medical Service Specialists, the Air Force's equivalent to nurses' aides, recorded Kris' temperature. On the night before his discharge, the specialists failed to report to nurses or physicians that Kris' temperature had been dropping throughout that night. Kris developed hypoglycemia and suffered respiratory arrest resulting in severe, permanent brain damage.

¶6 William and Jane Knowles brought suit on their own behalf and for Kris for medical malpractice, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. The United States admitted liability for medical malpractice and filed a motion for entry of judgment of $1 million based on SDCL 21-3-11, 1 which limits damages in medical malpractice actions to $1 million. In Knowles v. U.S., 829 F.Supp. 1147, 1157 (D.S.D.1993), the United States District Court of South Dakota, Western Division, (district court) ruled that SDCL 21-3-11 was constitutional and entered judgment for $1 million. Knowles appealed. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals certified four questions to this court, which we accepted:

1. Is the SDCL 21-3-11 damages cap unconstitutional under South Dakota's Constitution? Specifically, is it violative of any of the following portions of the South Dakota Constitution: SDConstArtVI, § 6, the right to a jury trial; SDConstArtVI, §§ 2 and 18, due process and equal protection of law; SDConstArtVI, § 20, the open-courts and remedy-for-injury provision; or SDConstArtIII, § 23(9), forbidding certain special legislation?

2. Are Medical Service Specialists "practitioners of the healing arts" for purposes of SDCL 21-3-11?

The district court answered in the affirmative. Knowles, 829 F.Supp. at 1151.

3. Does South Dakota law recognize emotional distress or loss of consortium for injuries to a minor child as a separate cause of action?

The district court determined that there was only one cause of action for the purpose of its decision. Id. at 1152-53.

Page 186

4. Does the statutory limitation on damages apply separately to each of the three plaintiffs in this case and each of the two separate causes of action?

The district court answered in the negative. Id. at 1152.

¶7 Question 1: Is the SDCL 21-3-11 damages cap unconstitutional under South Dakota's Constitution?

There is a strong presumption that the laws enacted by the Legislature are constitutional and that presumption is rebutted only when it clearly, palpably and plainly appears that the statute violates a provision of the constitution.

Specht v. City of Sioux Falls, 526 N.W.2d 727, 729 (S.D.1995) (citations omitted). [p a)]

Initially, we note that many courts have invalidated limitations on damages based on their respective state constitutions. Moore v. Mobile Infirmary Ass'n, 592 So.2d 156, 158 (Ala.1991) (citing Smith v. Dep't. of Ins., 507 So.2d 1080 (Fla.1987) (invalidating a damages cap on personal injury awards); Wright v. Central Du Page Hosp. Ass'n, 63 Ill.2d 313, 347 N.E.2d 736 (1976); Brannigan v. Usitalo, 134 N.H. 50, 587 A.2d 1232 (N.H.1991); Carson v. Maurer, 120 N.H. 925, 424 A.2d 825 (N.H.1980); Arneson v. Olson, 270 N.W.2d 125 (N.D.1978); Morris v. Savoy, 61 Ohio St.3d 684, 576 N.E.2d 765 (1991); Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687 (Tex.1988); Condemarin v. Univ. Hosp., 775 P.2d 348 (Utah 1989); Sofie v. Fibreboard Corp., 112 Wash.2d 636, 771 P.2d 711 (1989) (amended by 780 P.2d 260 (Wash.1989)) (invalidating a damages cap on all personal injury actions)).

¶8 Other jurisdictions have upheld a damages cap: Moore, 592 So.2d at 158 (citing Fein v. Permanente Medical Group, 38 Cal.3d 137, 211 Cal.Rptr. 368, 695 P.2d 665 (Calif 1985); Johnson v. St. Vincent Hosp., Inc., 273 Ind. 374, 404 N.E.2d 585 (1980) ; Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Servs., Inc., 246 Kan. 336, 789 P.2d 541 (1990)) (modified on statutory grounds by Bair v. Peck, 248 Kan. 824, 811 P.2d 1176, 1191 (1991); Etheridge v. Medical Center Hosps., 237 Va. 87, 376 S.E.2d 525 (1989)). See also Carol A. Crocca, Validity, Construction, and Application of State Statutory Provisions Limiting Amount of Recovery in Medical Malpractice Claims, 26 ALR5th 245 (1995); Gary D. Jensen, Legislative Larceny: The Legislature Acts Unconstitutionally When It Arbitrarily Abolishes or Limits Common Law Rights to Redress for Injury, 31 SDLRev 82, 82 (1985) ("Much of the [protectionist legislation for health care providers] has been struck down as unconstitutional.").

¶9 However, the questions presented herein generally turn on the particular constitutional provisions of the state and the case law precedent interpreting those provisions. Because the provisions of the South Dakota Constitution guaranteeing the right to jury trial, open courts and due process are dispositive, we do not reach the other constitutional questions.

SDCL § 21-3-11

violates the right of trial by jury.

South Dakota Constitution article VI, § 6 guarantees the right of trial by jury:

The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate and shall extend to all cases at law without regard to the amount in controversy[.]

(Emphasis added); see SDCL 15-6-38(a) ("The right of trial by jury ... shall be preserved to the parties inviolate.") (emphasis added). "Inviolate" has been defined as "free from change or blemish: pure, unbroken ... free from assault or trespass: untouched, intact[.]" Sofie, 771 P.2d at 721-22 (citing Webster's New Third International Dictionary, 1190 (1976)). In discussing the role of the jury, the United States Supreme Court has stated:

Maintenance of the jury as a fact-finding body is of such importance and occupies so firm a place in our history and jurisprudence that any seeming curtailment of the right to a jury trial should be scrutinized with the utmost care.

Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 486, 55 S.Ct. 296, 301, 79 L.Ed. 603, 611 (1935) (assessment of damages is a "matter so peculiarly within the province of the jury[.]").

¶10 "A jury is the tribunal provided by law to determine the facts and to fix the amount of damages." Schaffer v. Edward D. Jones & Co., 521 N.W.2d 921, 927 n9 (SD

Page 187

1994) (citation omitted). "[T]he amount of damages to be awarded is a factual issue to be determined by the trier of fact[.]" Sander v. Geib, Elston, Frost Professional Ass'n, 506 N.W.2d 107, 119 (S.D.1993) (citation omitted). With any jury award for personal injuries, we "have allowed [the jury] 'wide latitude' " in making its award. Id. (citation omitted).

We are unwilling to allow the trial court authority to limit a damages award as a matter of law ... A jury determination of the amount of damages is the essence of the right to trial by jury--to go beyond the procedural mechanisms now in place [remittitur] for reduction of a verdict and to bind the jury's discretion is to deny this constitutional right.

Moore, 592 So.2d at 161 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). The damages cap is unconstitutional because it limits the jury verdict "automatically and absolutely" which makes the jury's function "less than an advisory status." Id. at 164 (emphasis in original).

¶11 SDCL 21-3-11 arbitrarily and without a hearing imposes a limitation of one million dollars on all damages in all medical malpractice actions. It does so without provisions for determining the extent of the injuries or resulting illness, or whether these injuries or illness resulted in death. It purports to cover even those cases where the medical costs occasioned by the malpractice alone exceed one million dollars. In other words, the damages recovered in these cases could actually be payable to the wrongdoers for medical expenses, not to the victims. It does so in all...

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46 practice notes
  • 72 A.3d 773 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013), 1219 C.D. 2012, Zauflik v. Pennsbury School District
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 3, 2013
    ...424 A.2d 825 (N.H. 1980); Clarke v. Oregon Health Sciences University, 343 Ore. 581, 175 P.3d 418 (Or. 2007); Knowles v. United States, 1996 SD 10, 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996); and Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687 (Tex. 1988). District responds by noting that Pennsylvania is not an ano......
  • 988 P.2d 287 (Kan.App. 1999), 79,624, Hoover v. Innovative Health of Kansas, Inc.
    • United States
    • Kansas Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • September 3, 1999
    ...withdrawn from publication by the Page 291 California Supreme Court and has no precedential value); Knowles v. United States of America, 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D.1996) (although parent's action was derivative from child's, there were two separate actions with regards to damages and, thus, two st......
  • 940 So.2d 777 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2006), 04-1235, Arrington v. ER Physicians Group, APMC
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • September 27, 2006
    ...684, 576 N.E..2d 765 (1991); Florida, Smith v. Department of Insurance, 506[507] So.2d 1080 (Fla. 1987). See also, In Re Knowles v. U.S., 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996). In Knowles the court commented: Initially, we note that many courts have invalidated limitations on damages based on their re......
  • Are non-economic caps constitutional?
    • United States
    • Defense Counsel Journal Vol. 80 Nbr. 2, April - April 2013
    • April 1, 2013
    ...actions to $500,000 has not been challenged. A previous version was held CONSTITUTIONAL. Knowles ex rel. Knowles v. United States, 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996) (Amendment imposing $1 million total damage cap in medical malpractice actions declared unconstitutional because it violated due proc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • 72 A.3d 773 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013), 1219 C.D. 2012, Zauflik v. Pennsbury School District
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 3, 2013
    ...424 A.2d 825 (N.H. 1980); Clarke v. Oregon Health Sciences University, 343 Ore. 581, 175 P.3d 418 (Or. 2007); Knowles v. United States, 1996 SD 10, 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996); and Lucas v. United States, 757 S.W.2d 687 (Tex. 1988). District responds by noting that Pennsylvania is not an ano......
  • 988 P.2d 287 (Kan.App. 1999), 79,624, Hoover v. Innovative Health of Kansas, Inc.
    • United States
    • Kansas Court of Appeals of Kansas
    • September 3, 1999
    ...withdrawn from publication by the Page 291 California Supreme Court and has no precedential value); Knowles v. United States of America, 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D.1996) (although parent's action was derivative from child's, there were two separate actions with regards to damages and, thus, two st......
  • 940 So.2d 777 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2006), 04-1235, Arrington v. ER Physicians Group, APMC
    • United States
    • Louisiana Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • September 27, 2006
    ...684, 576 N.E..2d 765 (1991); Florida, Smith v. Department of Insurance, 506[507] So.2d 1080 (Fla. 1987). See also, In Re Knowles v. U.S., 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996). In Knowles the court commented: Initially, we note that many courts have invalidated limitations on damages based on their re......
  • Siebert v. Okun, 031521 NMSC, S-1-SC-37231
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • March 15, 2021
    ...v. Lester E. Cox Med. Ctrs., 376 S.W.3d 633, 640-41 (Mo. banc 2012) (same); Knowles v. United States, 1996 S.D. 10, ¶¶ 9-16, 544 N.W.2d 183, 186-88 (same), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Millea v. Erickson, 2014 S.D. 34, ¶ 13, 849 N.W.2d 272, 27......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Are non-economic caps constitutional?
    • United States
    • Defense Counsel Journal Vol. 80 Nbr. 2, April - April 2013
    • April 1, 2013
    ...actions to $500,000 has not been challenged. A previous version was held CONSTITUTIONAL. Knowles ex rel. Knowles v. United States, 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996) (Amendment imposing $1 million total damage cap in medical malpractice actions declared unconstitutional because it violated due proc......
  • The Independence and Democratic Accountability of the Supreme Court of Ohio
    • United States
    • Capital University Law Review Nbr. 30-3, October 2002
    • October 1, 2002
    ...protection grounds a statute admitting evidence of collateral source payments in medical malpractice cases); Knowles v. United States, 544 N.W.2d 183 (S.D. 1996) (finding that a statute limiting medical malpractice compensatory damages to $1 million violated substantive due process); Lucas ......

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