CCL President Robert S. Peck argued that a federal district court in Virginia was obliged to take up a constitutional challenge to Virginia's $2 million limitation on damages in medical malpractice cases before undertaking trial of the case today.

     In J.S. v. Winchester Pediatric, a young boy was catastrophically injured, requiring life-long care, as a result of medical negligence after being involved in an automobile collision. One set of defendants settled for the entire damage limitation of $2 million. However, because of the statutory limit, the second defendant is immunized from liability, even if found to have been at fault and a jury determination that the damages exceed the $2 million limit. For that reason, Peck argued that the district court did not have Article III authority under the Constitution to try the case. The Supreme Court has made clear that to constitute a "case" or "controversy" within the authority of the federal courts there must be an injury in fact fairly traceable to the defendant's conduct for which the court can give relief. Because no relief could be had as a result of the damage-cap statute, Peck told the court it was without authority to try the case. However, he said the constitutional challenge to the statute demonstrated the requisite case or controversy because J.S. would be shut out of his day in court as a result of the state law and that a declaration of unconstitutionality could remedy this injury.

     The defendant and the Virginia Attorney General's office both argued that a trial needed to take place before the constitutional question could be taken up, in order to be sure there was liability and a verdict above the cap. Neither, however, was able to explain how the court had Article III authority to conduct the medical-malpractice trial.