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Updated August 22, 2019
Last week, the Supreme Court of Missouri struck down a 2005 state law that limited the amount of non-economic damages a jury may award in medical malpractice cases. In a 4-3 decision, the Court stated the $350,000 limit imposed on damages for pain and suffering violated a patient’s right to a jury trial.
In Watts v. Cox Medical Centers, et al., a Springfield, Missouri mother filed a lawsuit after her son sustained catastrophic brain damage during his birth. A jury determined the hospital’s delay in providing Deborah Watts with an emergency Cesarean section caused her son’s brain injury and awarded the new mother almost $5 million as a result.
The jury’s $1.45 million non-economic damages award was reduced, however, pursuant to the 2005 law. Watts subsequently appealed her son’s case to the Missouri Supreme Court. Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman said the Court’s decision to strike down the so-called tort reform law will ensure that Watts’s son will receive the benefit of the jury’s decision to provide compensation for his future medical expenses and care.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry expressed disappointment with the Court’s decision. Missouri House Judiciary Committee Chairman Stanley Cox said the holding was a reversal of an earlier decision that held a damages cap does not violate an individual’s right to a jury trial. In response to the decision, some Missouri legislators stated they would consider asking voters to reinstate the medical malpractice caps through a constitutional amendment. Senator Rob Schaaf said a constitutional amendment would also prevent the possibility of a veto by the current Governor.
In contrast, Tim Dollar, President of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, applauded the high court’s decision. Both patient advocates and plaintiff’s attorneys believe the non-economic damages cap unfairly targets children and the elderly, who do not normally receive an award for lost wages following a catastrophic injury.
Although the average number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed since the 2005 law was passed has decreased from 847 per year to 643, the number of jury verdicts in favor of Missouri plaintiffs remained steady at one percent. Additionally, the Missouri Foundation for Health reported the damages cap failed to reduce healthcare costs in the state. Attorney Jeffrey Herman believes fewer medical mistakes may result from a lack of a damages cap, as physicians and other healthcare providers will have an increased incentive to be cautious when providing patient care.
Many states have passed a variety of so-called tort reform laws that include an arbitrary cap for non-economic damages. Non-economic damages normally include pain and suffering, grief, loss of companionship, and other injuries that are not easily calculable.
In 1975, the State of Indiana placed a cap on all damages caused by medical malpractice. Despite the cap, the cost of healthcare in the state has continued to increase at an alarming rate.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical negligence, you are urged to contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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