In July of 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a law that capped the amount a medical malpractice victim would receive for non-economic damages at $350,000. These damages include severe pain, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. The court said the law violated a patient’s right to a jury trial. The cap was first established in 2005 as a push towards tort reform.
The case this decision came from was a delayed emergency caesarean section that resulted in the child being with severe brain injuries. In this case the jury came back with an award for nearly $5 million which was then reduced under the law at that time. The 4-3 Missouri Supreme Court decision said the cap infringed on the jury’s ability to determine the amount of damages sustained by the injured party when the case involved medical errors.
The cap on medical malpractice awards was pushed by Republicans in that state as a way to stem rising medical malpractice insurance rates. Some then believed that by eliminating this key provision from the law hospitals, doctors, nurses and patients would be harmed. Additionally it would send potential job creators the wrong message about Missouri’s legal climate.
Now a new bill that was filed in advance of this year’s legislative session seeks to reinstate the cap on non-economic damages. One reason mentioned for reinstating the cap is to attract and retain good doctors in Missouri. Additionally it would keep the cost of health care from increasing. Some believe that during the time when the cap was in place specialists were more willing to be located in rural areas.
In Texas one of the reasons a cap on non-economic damages was passed was to encourage doctors to stay in Texas and for more doctors to come to the state. However, prior to the bill’s passage doctors were not fleeing the state. Additionally, doctors did not come to Texas to practice in any greater numbers after tort reform. Nor did they decide to move to more rural areas. Why would the case be any different in Missouri?
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