Missouri Damage Caps Struck Down After 20 Years

Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm is no stranger to debates (legal and political) about civil lawsuit damage caps. The battle over these caps raged in Illinois for years. The Illinois Supreme Court’s striking down of the latest cap law a few years ago marked an important affirmation of patient’s rights and basic fairness. We know, however, that that latest state decision is not the end of the matter. That is because various interest continue to push for various forms of legislation to take away rights in Illinois, other states, and at the federal level.

Advocates for fairness and common sense in the justice system need to stand arm-in-arm with all those fighting these dangerous policy proposals across the country. All those hurt by medical malpractice deserve the same basic access to the civil justice system.

Fortunately, many great advocates are working to keep rights as they currently exist and fight back to return rights that were taken away by previous legislation.

The American Association for Justice (AAJ), for example, recently published a letter explaining how–after 20 long years–advocates were finally successful in striking down a non-economic damage cap law for medical malpractice cases in Missouri.

The Case
The landmark litigation, Watts v. Lester Cox Medical Center, involved a child who was severely injured as a result of unreasonable conduct by medical professionals at his birth. After hearing the evidence in the trial, a jury awarded a significant sum to the child to pay for his losses and the lifelong care will need as a result of his debilitating brain injury. However, because of a statute that capped non-economic damages in these cases at $350,000, the child received only a fraction of what an impartial jury deemed fair. The hospital essentially got a free-pass from paying for the consequences of their errors.

However, the AAJ worked with the Center for Constitutional Litigation to appeal the decision. It was not an easy appeal, considering a 1992 case in the state on the same issue ruled that the statute was constitutional. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers are very aware of the difficulty in overcoming legal precedent on an issue like this one. The AAJ notes that the odds of bucking precedent were particularly high in this case, considering it drew national attention and sparked the rebuttal of a wide-range of powerful interest groups who devote significant resources to passing and maintaining these laws.

However, the decision in the case was recently handed down and it is a big win for medical patients. The state’s high court rules in a close 4-3 decision that the anti civil-justice laws could not withstand state constitutional scrutiny.

It is important not to forget what this decision means for actual patients. Citizens in the state will now be able to share their story with a jury and have the impartial group of fellow citizens decide what amount is owed, if anything, as a result of the conduct of medical professionals. It seems like a common-sense, non-controversial proposition, but because of certain big interests groups it is a never-ending fight to preserve those rights.

Hopefully, more state courts will follow the lead here and ensure community members have fair access to the civil justice system.

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