Missouri Supreme Court Reviews Constitutionality of Medical Malpractice Caps
The Missouri Supreme Court is reconsidering medical malpractice award caps. The outcome could profoundly affect victims of medical negligence.
July 04, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Missouri Supreme Court Reviews Constitutionality of Medical Malpractice Caps
The Missouri Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the state's tough statutory limits on medical malpractice awards. Many believe that the caps deny crucial compensation to victims of medical negligence.
Current Missouri Medical Malpractice Cap
In 2005, the state of Missouri adopted a law that limits medical malpractice awards to $350,000 for non-economic damages, regardless of the number of defendants involved in the case. Non-economic damages are those which are awarded in addition to the actual cost of injury and litigation fees in personal injury cases.
The law requires that jurors in a medical malpractice case may not be reminded of the limit when determining non-economic awards; instead, courts will automatically adjust the amount the jury awards if it exceeds $350,000. This means that even when a jury finds an award greater than $350,000 to be appropriate in a case, the court will automatically decrease the award to stay within the limit.
Lastly, the statute clarifies that punitive damages may be awarded only if plaintiffs can prove that a health care provider acted in a willful, wanton or malicious way, and that these actions contributed to their injuries.
The Supreme Court to Reconsider Medical Malpractice Caps
A recent state Supreme Court case has brought Missouri's medical malpractice award limit to center stage. A mother has claimed her son contracted cerebral palsy as the result of her physician's failure to act when her son showed signs of distress in the womb. The physician's lack of action caused "catastrophic and disabling brain injuries," according to the mother's brief to the Supreme Court.
Her son's cerebral palsy prevents him from walking and caused developmental delays. In 2011, a jury awarded the mother and her family $4.8 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit, including $1.45 million in non-economic damages. However, once this award was announced, the court automatically applied the state's mandated award limit, reducing the plaintiff's award from $1.45 million to $350,000.
In her brief to the Supreme Court, the mother claims that the lower court erred in reducing the award from $1.45 million to $350,000 and in doing so violated several constitutional rights, including a right to trial by jury, the constitutional separation of powers between the state-mandated cap and the judicial system and the equal protection clause. The plaintiff also claims the cap provides "special legislative protection" to health care providers.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiff, parties injured by medical malpractice may be able to recover the entire compensation the jury awards them, not just $350,000. Often, medical, emotional and other problems persist after a medical injury, causing more costs to the victim. Courts should allow these victims to collect appropriate compensation for all consequences of their injury. If you or a loved one has been injured by a health care provider and believe malpractice is to blame, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney to explore your legal options.
Article provided by Devereaux, Stokes, Nolan, Fernandez & Leonard, P.C.
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