In this auto-accident case, a Prince William County Circuit Court declines to apply the Maryland cap on non-economic damages because the court finds the cap does not affect substantive rights in a wrongful death, but merely affects the remedy; but the court recognizes there is a split of authority on this point in Virginia circuit courts.
The issue is whether Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages is substantive or procedural.
The parties correctly point out the Virginia Supreme Court has yet to address this precise issue, however, two Virginia circuit courts have considered it and have reached conflicting outcomes. After review of counsels’ briefs, argument and the applicable cases, I agree with the 2004 holding in Norwood v. Henry’s Wrecker Service. The Maryland cap on non-economic damages is procedural and therefore inapplicable.
I do not find Maryland’s cap to affect the basis for the right of action. I agree with Norwood that it is persuasive that Maryland’s legislature could have included the cap in the wrongful death statute when the cap was added in 1994, thus removing any ambiguity as to whether the cap was a part of the right or merely a limitation on the remedy, but rather chose to include the cap in a separate title of the Maryland Code.
Further, the test is not whether, under Maryland law, the cap is substantive or procedural, but whether, under Virginia law, which is the forum, the cap is substantive or procedural. I do not find the decision in Hoilett v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. [VLW 010-8-170] persuasive as I believe it relies in part on dicta in Walters v. Rockwell Int’l Corp., 559 F.Supp 47 (E.D. Va. 1983), which I do not find to be applicable here. I do not conclude, as Hoilett did, that Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages is substantive because it is so entwined with the Maryland Wrongful Death Act that it cannot be separated from the action, therefore making it substantive law.
I deny defendants’ motion to apply the Maryland cap on non-economic damages because I do not find the cap affects one’s substantive rights in a wrongful death action. Because I find the cap is procedural, pursuant to Virginia’s conflict of law rules, lex fori governs and the Maryland cap does not apply to this action.
Quinichett v. Waggy’s Towing LLC (Johnston) No. CL 10001020-00, Jan. 10, 2012; 31st Judicial Cir.; Mark A. Towery, Tim E. Dollar, John D. McGavin, Ara L. Tramblian, Robert E. Worst for the parties. VLW 012-8-014, 5 pp.