On May 7, 2015, the Governor of Missouri signed into law caps on noneconomic damages in Missouri medical malpractice cases after a three-year lapse following the Missouri Supreme Court finding that the prior medical malpractice cap was unconstitutional because the flat $350,000 cap violated the constitutional right to have a jury decide Missouri common law claims (when Missouri’s Constitution was adopted in 1820, there was a right to a jury trial in cases such as medical malpractice claims).
By reclassifying Missouri medical malpractice claims as statutory claims as opposed to common law claims, the Missouri Legislature and the Missouri Governor are attempting an end-run around the right to a jury trial in civil disputes that is so ingrained in Missouri’s history.
In praising the newly reinstituted caps, Governor Jay Nixon reportedly stated, “The bill signing marks a successful completion of a bi-partisan effort to ensure that our healthcare providers can do what they do best: help and heal Missourians in need. We needed to devise an approach that would protect patients by making sure that appropriate financial restitution can be sought and garnered in serious cases where there is medical malpractice. Taking this dissonance away and giving cost certainty, while still protecting the rights of folks who are damaged, strikes the right balance.” Governor Nixon was further quoted as saying, “This bipartisan legislation protects patients by making sure that significant financial restitution can be sought in cases of medical malpractice, while also helping to attract and retain health care providers in our state.”
Really, Governor Nixon? How does arbitrarily limiting the compensation that the most seriously injured victims of medical malpractice may receive “protect” them? And, Governor Nixon, what is the empirical evidence that Missouri’s cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases will “attract and retain health care providers” in Missouri?
The Missouri Senate bill’s sponsor stated, ” I think this law is just about right for the people of the state of Missouri. I think this does translate into less healthcare cost, which is what we are all trying to reach.” Senator, should the right of all Missourians to be fairly compensated for their losses and harms caused by the negligence of others be subjucated to the goal of reducing health care costs in Missouri? What evidence is there that medical malpractice damages caps in Missouri will reduce health care costs in Missouri?
The new law limits noneconomic damages in Missouri medical malpractice cases to $400,000 in most cases, unless the claim involves “catastrophic” injuries such as paralysis, loss of vision, and brain injury, for which the cap is raised to $700,000. The new law also increases the existing cap for wrongful death claims from $350,000 to $700,000. The cap on noneconomic damages increases by 1.7% each year under the new law.
If you or a loved one in Missouri or in another U.S. state were seriously harmed as a result of medical negligence, you should promptly find a Missouri medical malpractice attorney, or a local medical malpractice attorney in your state, who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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