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Missouri Supreme Court Rules Medical Malpractice Damage Caps Unconstitutional
The Missouri Supreme Court struck down a $350,000 limit on jury awards for “pain and suffering” in medical malpractice cases, saying the law violates a patient’s right to a jury trial. The case began as an action filed by Deborah Watts of Springfield, Mo., whose son, Naython, was born with catastrophic brain injuries at Cox South Hospital in 2006 after a delay in receiving an emergency C-section. A Greene County jury awarded Watts nearly $5 million, which was then reduced under the law. The high court’s decision this week “ensures that Naython will receive the benefit of the jury’s award for future medical care,” according to the ruling written by Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman.
The cap on malpractice awards was established by a 2005 Missouri state law that enacted as part of a “tort reform” push. Indiana has also enacted a damage cap in medical malpractice cases that limit the accountability of the negligent hospitals or other health care providers (even repeat offenders), regardless of how egregious the medical negligence, how significant the disability, deformity, or suffering, nor how much future medical bills will cost the victim.
The reality is that caps like the one struck down in Missouri target children, older people and the disabled who tend to be awarded damages for pain and suffering and not lost wages or future earnings while doing little to reduce health care costs. Studies have shown that damage caps have negligible impact on premiums, with insurance companies remaining quite profitable. The unfairness of the damage caps is evident: a negligent truck driver who injured a physician could be held fully accountable under the law, while a hospital that disregards basic medical safety rules catastrophically injuring the same truck driver could escape meaningful responsibility for their actions under the damage cap law.
If you feel that you or a loved one has been adversely affected by medical malpractice, seek the professional advice of an experienced attorney to help you evaluate your rights. Contact the Powless Law Firm, P.C. for a free case review.