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Missouri Legislature Trying to Move Backwards on Patients’ Rights

Missouri is one of many states, like Illinois, that has previously determined that damage caps in medical malpractice cases are unconstitutional. When it did so it ruled that the statute that created the caps infringed on the jury’s constitutionally protected purpose of determining the amount of damages sustained by an injured party. The court based its ruling on the state constitution’s trial by jury right. Now the Missouri legislature is trying to pass damage cap legislation again, despite this ruling and despite the serious personal injuries suffered by medical malpractice victims in Missouri.

Missouri House Approves Bill to Strip Malpractice Victims of Rights

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that the Missouri House has approved legislation that, if it became law, would limit jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. The horrible thing is that they may be able to get away with it. The Missouri Supreme Court’s previous decision striking down caps relied on the fact that in Missouri there is no statutory right to a jury trial in medical malpractice cases. Instead it is what is called a common-law right. Because people had a right to sue for personal injuries back when the Missouri Constitution became law, the right to a trial by jury as applies now as it did at that time. That means that patients have a right to have the jury determine damages, not the legislature. What the legislature is trying to do is remove the common-law jury trial remedy for medical malpractice cases and create a statutory one. If the right to a jury trial is not a constitutional right, but a statutory right, then the right to a jury determination of damages may not be guaranteed. The Missouri Supreme Court has allowed damage caps in wrongful death cases based on this line of reasoning.

Missouri Itself Proves that Caps are Not Necessary

According to the Post-Dispatch report, one of the alleged reasons for this legislation is a fear that doctors will “flee the state” if there is no damage cap. That is nonsense. The Court struck down Missouri’s previous damage cap back in 2012, but this flight has not yet occurred. Additionally, the number of states to flee to is dropping. The trend in state courts is now finally to strike down these patient-hurting caps, so states like Florida and Missouri’s neighbor Illinois have already rid themselves of the problem.

Perhaps most telling is the language used by those who support this short-sighted Missouri legislation. Dr. Rebecca Hierholzer told the Post-Dispatch that the question of pain and suffering of medical malpractice victims ignores the effects on doctors and their families who face these high costs and large lawsuits, asking, “How can your pain and suffering be any more than mine.” The answer to her question is simple. The pain and suffering associated with being permanently disfigured and/or disabled by the negligence of a doctor who you trusted is more severe than the pain and suffering of being sued. Suggesting otherwise is no different that suggesting the pain and suffering of a victim of violent crime is not more severe than the pain and suffering the criminal suffers by having to go through a trial. It is wrong.

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