Jenkins v. Patel, Docket No. 233116.

CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)
Citation256 Mich. App. 112,662 N.W.2d 453
Docket NumberDocket No. 233116.
PartiesMargaret JENKINS, Personal Representative of the Estate of Mattie Howard, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jayesh Kumar PATEL and Comprehensive Health Services, d/b/a The Wellness Plan, Defendants-Appellants.
Decision Date29 May 2003

662 N.W.2d 453
256 Mich.
App. 112

Margaret JENKINS, Personal Representative of the Estate of Mattie Howard, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Jayesh Kumar PATEL and Comprehensive Health Services, d/b/a The Wellness Plan, Defendants-Appellants

Docket No. 233116.

Court of Appeals of Michigan.

Submitted March 12, 2003, at Detroit.

Decided April 1, 2003, at 9:15 a.m.

Released for Publication May 29, 2003.

662 N.W.2d 454
Ira B. Saperstein, Southfield, for the plaintiff

Kitch Drutchas Wagner DeNardis & Valitutti (by Susan H. Zitterman) and Grier & Copeland, P.C. (by Wilson Copeland and Dora Brantley), Detroit, for the defendants.



Defendants Jayesh K. Patel and Comprehensive Health Services appeal as of right from a judgment entered pursuant to a jury verdict that awarded plaintiff Margaret Jenkins, personal representative of the estate of Mattie Howard, $10 million in damages in this wrongful-death, medical-malpractice action. On the basis of our

662 N.W.2d 455
resolution of this appeal, it is necessary to address only two central issues. First, we must determine whether Michigan's wrongful-death act (WDA), M.C.L. § 600.2922, governs the award of noneconomic damages arising out of a death caused by medical-malpractice, thereby precluding the application of the medical-malpractice cap on noneconomic damages found in M.C.L. § 600.1483 (damages cap). We hold that the WDA controls an award of damages where a plaintiff pursues a wrongful-death action predicated on medical malpractice. Therefore, the damages cap is inapplicable and does not limit the noneconomic damages recoverable by plaintiff. The second issue is whether the trial court erred in denying defendants' motion for remittitur or new trial. We hold that the trial court erred in failing to determine a remittitur amount after concluding that the damage award was excessive, where the court also did not grant a new trial


Plaintiff brought this wrongful-death action in March 1998, seeking to recover damages for the death of her mother, Mattie Howard. The complaint alleged that Ms. Howard's death was caused by defendants' medical malpractice. Ms. Howard began treating with defendant Dr. Patel in May 1992, shortly after being hospitalized for a stroke. Ms. Howard had a ten- to fifteen-year history of hypertension. She also suffered from heart disease and had lost a significant amount of her kidney function. Additionally, her stroke had caused some damage to the vessels in her brain. Dr. Patel monitored Ms. Howard's blood pressure and prescribed various medications to treat her hypertension. Dr. Patel referred Ms. Howard to a nephrologist in late 1993, after tests he ordered showed decreased kidney function. She began dialysis treatment in May 1994. In November 1995, Ms. Howard was admitted to Sinai Hospital, where her condition deteriorated and she died. Plaintiff contended that Dr. Patel negligently managed Ms. Howard's renal disease and hypertension, which ultimately led to her death. Plaintiff's expert testified in detail concerning how Dr. Patel breached the standard of care that was required of him in treating Ms. Howard and how this led to her demise. Plaintiff sought damages for the loss of society and companionship sustained by Ms. Howard's seven children and seven siblings. The jury found in favor of plaintiff and awarded $10 million in noneconomic damages.

Defendants filed a motion for remittitur or new trial, arguing that the damages cap required a reduction in the damage award, and, in the alternative, that the award was excessive. The judge who presided over the jury trial accepted a position on the federal bench, and was no longer on the bench at the time the motion for remittitur or new trial was heard; therefore, the judge who heard the motion relied on the trial transcript in order to render a ruling.1 The trial court ruled that the WDA controlled and that the damages cap therefore was inapplicable. With respect to the alleged excessiveness of the damage award, the trial court agreed on the record that the award was excessive; however, the court failed to set a remittitur amount because it found it too difficult to determine an appropriate amount of damages in light of the fact that the court was not personally present to hear the testimony of witnesses and judge their credibility. The trial court also refused to grant defendants a new trial.

662 N.W.2d 456

A. Standard of Review

We are asked to determine whether the WDA governs an award of damages with respect to noneconomic losses suffered in wrongful-death actions predicated on medical malpractice. This issue involves statutory interpretation, which is a question of law that this Court reviews de novo. In re RFF, 242 Mich.App. 188, 198, 617 N.W.2d 745 (2000).

B. The Parties' Appellate Arguments

Defendants argue that the damages cap clearly states that it applies to any action alleging medical malpractice. They contend that the trial court committed error in refusing to apply the cap. Defendants assert that the fact that plaintiff used the WDA to bring the lawsuit did not change the underlying character of the lawsuit, which sounded in medical malpractice. According to defendants, the damages cap applies even though there is no specific reference to it in the WDA. Moreover, it is argued that the specific and more recently enacted damages cap superseded any inconsistent language in the WDA. Additionally, defendants maintain that the legislative history of the damages cap confirms that that cap now applies in wrongful-death actions, where, in 1993, the Legislature eliminated death as an exception to the cap, thereby providing for a cap on all medical-malpractice actions, including those where death resulted from the malpractice.

Plaintiff maintains on appeal that the damages cap is inapplicable because: (1) the WDA is the exclusive remedy in wrongful-death cases such as this one, (2) the WDA is the more specific statute and takes precedence over the damages cap, and (3) in examining relevant statutory provisions, the Legislature obviously did not intend for the cap to apply in wrongful-death cases.

C. Guiding Principles of Statutory Construction and Analysis

In Roberts v. Mecosta Co. Gen. Hosp., 466 Mich. 57, 63, 642 N.W.2d 663 (2002), the Michigan Supreme Court, reviewing principles of statutory construction, stated:

An anchoring rule of jurisprudence, and the foremost rule of statutory construction, is that courts are to effect the intent of the Legislature. To do so, we begin with an examination of the language of the statute. If the statute's language is clear and unambiguous, then we assume that the Legislature intended its plain meaning and the statute is enforced as written. A necessary corollary of these principles is that a court may read nothing into an unambiguous statute that is not within the manifest intent of the Legislature as derived from the words of the statute itself. [Citations omitted.]

Every word or phrase contained in a statute should be accorded its plain and ordinary meaning. Slater v. Ann Arbor Pub. Schools Bd. of Ed., 250 Mich.App. 419, 428-429, 648 N.W.2d 205 (2002). Moreover, we presume that every word in a statute has some meaning, and this Court should avoid any construction that would render any part of a statute surplusage or nugatory. Karpinski v. St. John Hosp.-Macomb Ctr. Corp., 238 Mich.App. 539, 543, 606 N.W.2d 45 (1999).

If reasonable minds can differ concerning the meaning of a statute, judicial construction is appropriate. Slater, supra at 428, 648 N.W.2d 205. "Where ambiguity exists in a statute, a court may refer to the history of the legislation in order to determine the underlying intent of the Legislature." Luttrell v. Dep't of Corrections, 421 Mich. 93, 103, 365 N.W.2d 74 (1984).

662 N.W.2d 457
Courts may take cognizance of facts and events surrounding the passage and purpose of the legislation. Id.

We commence our analysis by closely examining the language contained in the relevant statutes, beginning with the WDA. Plaintiff's action was brought under the WDA, M.C.L. § 600.2922, which provides, in pertinent part:

(1) Whenever the death of a person or injuries resulting in death shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect, or fault of another, and the act, neglect, or fault is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages, the person who or the corporation that would have been liable, if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, and although the death was caused under circumstances that constitute a felony.
(2) Every action under this section shall be brought by, and in the name of, the personal representative of the estate of the deceased person....

* * *

(6) In every action under this section, the court or jury may award damages as the court or jury shall consider fair and equitable, under all the circumstances including ... damages for the loss of financial support and the loss of the society and companionship of the deceased....

MCL 600.2921 provides, in part, that "[a]ctions on claims for injuries which result in death shall not be prosecuted after the death of the injured person except pursuant to [MCL 600.2922]." (Emphasis added.) There having been no common-law right of recovery in the survivors of a person wrongfully killed, the sole source of rights in such a case is the WDA. Courtney v. Apple, 345 Mich. 223, 228, 76 N.W.2d 80 (1956); Crystal v. Hubbard, 92 Mich.App. 240, 243, 285 N.W.2d 66 (1979), rev'd on other grounds 414 Mich. 297, 324 N.W.2d 869 (1982). Our Supreme Court in Courtney, supra at 228, 76 N.W.2d 80, stated that "[t]he remedy under the death act2... is exclusive, and the recovery of damages is necessarily...

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5 cases
  • Jenkins v. Patel, Docket No. 123957. Calendar No. 9.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 26, 2004
    ...that the case before us, with respect to the subject matter from which the negligence arose, is such an action," Jenkins v. Patel, 256 Mich.App. 112, 122, 662 N.W.2d 453 (2003), it went on to conclude that "the Legislature did not intend [§ 1483's noneconomic] damages cap to limit those dam......
  • People v. Hendrick, Docket No. 248892.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • July 7, 2004
    ...that the Legislature is presumed to be cognizant of all existing statutes when enacting new legislation. Jenkins v. Patel, 256 Mich.App. 112, 126, 662 N.W.2d 453 (2003). Statutes that may appear to conflict are to be read together and reconciled, if at all possible. Detroit Police Officers ......
  • People v. Cervi, Docket No. 262331.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • April 18, 2006
    ...leave to appeal, MCR 7.205(D)(4), and defendant has not raised these constitutional issues in a cross-appeal. Jenkins v. Patel, 256 Mich.App. 112, 130, 662 N.W.2d 453 (2003), rev'd on other grounds 471 Mich. 158, 684 N.W.2d 346 14. At the time of the events at issue here, MCL 750.145c(1)(m)......
  • People v. Farquharson, Docket No. 271783.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • February 13, 2007
    ...cross-appeal." People v. Cervi, 270 Mich. App. 603, 623 n. 13, 717 N.W.2d 356 (2006), citing MCR 7.205(D)(4) and Jenkins v. Patel, 256 Mich.App. 112, 130, 662 N.W.2d 453 (2003), rev'd on other grounds 471 Mich. 158, 684 N.W.2d 346 Vacated and remanded for further proceedings consistent with......
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