Smith v. United States, 2015 UT 68 (August 11, 2015)

This case arose out of allegations of medical malpractice and wrongful death. The federal district court certified two questions relating to the applicability and constitutionality of a cap on non-economic damages contained in Utah’s Malpractice Act. Addressing the constitutional question at the outset, the Supreme Court concluded that article XVI, section 5 of the Utah Constitution protected economic damages and certain noneconomic damages available at the time of statehood, a time in which parties could not recover for mental anguish or suffering of survivors, but could recover other non-economic damages, such as loss of assistance or support of the deceased. The Supreme Court narrowly construed the “compensation” exception to the constitutional provision, holding that it referred to a system akin to worker’s compensation. Turning to its Malpractice Act analysis, the Supreme Court held a statutory cap on that amount of non-economic damages was unconstitutional as applied in a wrongful-death case.