Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down Non-Economic Damages Cap in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

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In a victory for victims of medical negligence across the state of Missouri, the state Supreme Court handed down a decision today that will again open the courts to hear grievances. House Bill No. 393 was passed in 2005 in Missouri, and provided for caps in a non-economic damages (otherwise known as pain & suffering) to a total of $350,000 per claim. House Bill was passed into law and become Mo. Rev. Stat. 538.210. Since it’s passing in 2005, this statute has been coined an unconstitutional infringement on in injury victim’s right to trial by jury. The argue is essentially that the
non-economic damages cap takes the decision out of the jury and imparts it to the judge. There is also an argument that 538.210 violates the separation of powers and Missouri’s equal protection laws.
The case Watts v. Lester Cox Medical Centers was argued in front of the Missouri Supreme Court on March 27, 2012 and just this afternoon the Court published its opinion. The majority opinion was written by Judge Teitelman, and in a detailed examination of 538.210, the justice writes “This Court holds that
Section 538.210 is unconstitutional to the extent that it infringes on the jury’s constitutionally protected purpose of determining the amount of damages sustained by an injured party.” Judge Teitelman went on to point out that the caps on non-economic damages did not exist at common law when Missouri adopted its state constitution in 1820.
There will be medical malpractice insurance companies out there that will be throwing their arms up in angst over this decision. However, don’t be fooled by their rhetoric. Medical malpractice premiums were actually raised when the non-economic damages caps were passed into law back in 2005…and for no apparent reason. Truth be told, these insurance companies are not losing money. They are making billions. Don’t let anyone fool you that an absence of non-economic caps are a means of keeping malpractice rates low.
Medical malpractice cases that are brought to the courthouse must accompany an affidavit from a physician that lawsuit has merit. That law has not changed. The abolition of the non-economic damages cap does not affect the manner and procedure in which medical malpractice lawsuits are filed. So any argument that today’s decision would result in filing of frivolous lawsuits would not have merit.
Just as in the Watts case, there are victims out there with significant claims for pain & suffering. Everyone makes mistakes in judgment, including doctors. It just so happens that when doctors make poor decisions, the result can be catastrophic for the patient, even deadly. That is why there is insurance coverage; to right the wrong. The Watts Supreme Court decision was the right one and again empowers a jury with the decision on how to properly compensate a victim represented by a Missouri medical malpractice lawyer.

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