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Maryland State Damages Cap Trumps Federal Awards For 11 Year Old Paraplegic

Davita Carter, an 11 year old resident of Illinois and a Marine veteran's daughter, appealed the damages reduction awarded her in 2000 after surgery left her a paraplegic. The federal court's award was dictated by Maryland State law and was affirmed on appeal.

Carter was left a paraplegic after scoliosis surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital (BNH). Suit was filed in the Central District of Illinois where she resided. The Federal Tort Claims Act (Act) provides that suit is properly brought either in the district where the plaintiff lives or where the tort occurred. The judge granted her liability summary judgment awarding economic damages of $3.4 million and non-economic damages of $15.5 million, subsequently reducing the non-economic damages to the Maryland State maximum cap of $530,000 because BNH is located in Maryland. Carter appealed arguing that Illinois, where the suit commenced, had no limit and that if the medical provider would have advised that sufficient care was available in Illinois there would never have been a cap.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the Act's provisions allowed for liability "in accordance with the law of the place where the act or commission occurred" and that Illinois was not a forum state for analysis conflict purposes. It was held that although BNH was a federal institution, making moot the Maryland cap, the federal government consents to tort liability only "to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances." It was further held that any medical advice or error regarding venue could not overcome the cap. See: Carter v. United States, 333 F.3d 791 (7th Cir. 2003).

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Related legal case

Carter v. United States