D.C. court adds interest on med-mal judgment

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 27, 2011, 10:58am

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, in a ruling last week, ordered a radiology group to pay additional money to a woman who sued them for medical malpractice.

Appellant Sharon K. Burke sued Groover, Christie & Merritt PC after suffering a stroke in October 2000.

Following a jury verdict and judgment for Burke on March 19, 2004, the appellees challenged the application of District law to the amount of non-economic damages allowed. The appeals court agreed that the Maryland cap on noneconomic damages applied to Burke's claim.

The judgment was paid on March 23, 2007, three years after the original jury verdict was entered. The verdict was for $5,774,156.07.

Following the first appeal, the parties agreed that Burke was owed $3,364,156.07 after deducting $1.41 million that exceeded the Maryland limit on non-economic damages and a pro tanto credit of $1 million paid by a codefendant.

The current appeal concerns the interest owed as a result of the three-year delay in satisfaction of the judgment and subsequent delay in payment of the post-judgment interest due.

Burke presented three arguments to the appeals court:

- As a matter of law, the rate of post-judgment interest made applicable to the judgment by D.C. Code § 28-3302 (c) is variable, not fixed;

- The trial court abused its discretion in applying the statutory exception in D.C. Code § 28-3302 (c) by finding "good cause" to reduce the statutory rate of post-judgment interest; and

- The trial court failed to address, and thus erred in disallowing, appellant's claim to interest on the undisputed amount of post-judgment interest unpaid for the period between the date the judgment was satisfied (March 23, 2007) and the date the post-judgment interest was ordered by the court (Dec. 12, 2007).

The appeals court, in its July 21 opinion, said it agreed with Burke on the first two points and reversed the judgment on that basis. On the third issue, it remanded the case.

Judge Vanessa Ruiz authored the appeals court's 29-page opinion.

In it, the court held that the rate of interest applicable to judgments against private parties in the District of Columbia pursuant to D.C. Code is a variable one, and that it continues to fluctuate with the market, on a quarterly basis, from the date of judgment to the date it is paid.

It also held that the "good cause" exception, allowing the trial court to lower the rate of interest applicable to judgments, does not apply where the only justification is the usual delay caused by post-trial motions and appellate consideration. The trial court erred in determining that an exception was warranted in this case, the appeals court said.

The appeals court also concluded that the trial court has "equitable authority" to award interest on the undisputed amount of post-judgment interest that remained unpaid during the court's consideration of the cross-motions for summary judgment.

"We, therefore, reverse and remand with instructions that the trial court enter judgment ordering appellees to pay (1) the agreed-upon amount ($167,677.92) reflecting the difference of post-judgment interest calculated using the variable rate required by statute and the 3 percent fixed rate the trial court erroneously applied, and (2) such interest, if any, on the undisputed minimum amount of post-judgment interest ($305,277.84) as the trial court deems is warranted by appellees' failure to pay any post-judgment interest from March to December 2007," the court wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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