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Missouri Moves Backwards on Medical Malpractice Caps

Medical malpractice lawsuits are the primary tool injured patients can use to hold responsible the doctors who hurt them. Whether a patient is injured by a missed diagnosis, a misdiagnosis, a healthcare provider error, or a hospital-related infection, medical malpractice suits provide a way for those who are proven to be at fault for an injury to be held financially responsible. Unfortunately the powerful insurance and medical lobbies have convinced large swaths of both our government and the public that “tort reform” is a good idea. So-called “tort reform” would be better named “rights limitation” or “rights elimination,” as that is what it actually is. Tort reform measures are designed to take away or limit regular people’s rights to due professionals and companies who hurt them. Missouri’s Supreme Court was a leader in striking down some of these measures as unconstitutional, but unfortunately it appears that Missouri has again passed measures stripping patients of their rights.

Missouri Passed A Medical Malpractice Damage Cap that Hurts Patients

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has signed medical malpractice damage caps into law. Missouri’s legislature has tried this before, but three years ago the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the damage caps, saying that they were unconstitutional because they violated the common law right to a jury trial. This time around the legislature is trying to get around the Missouri constitution by saying in the statute they passed that medical malpractice cases are statutory causes of action, not common law causes of action. The difference is, under Missouri law, if the cause of action is statutory rather than a common law one, then the legislature can limit what issues can and cannot be tried to a jury.

The new law will limit noneconomic damages to a mere $400,000 in most medical malpractice cases In a very small number of “catastrophic” cases injured patients may be able to recover as much as $700,000. However, for their injuries to be considered catastrophic, these injured patients would have to have suffered something extremely severe like a loss of vision or a serious brain injury. The maximum allowable compensation will be adjusted by being increased 1.7 percent each year. This is one positive difference when the law is compared to tort reform in California. In California the caps were set back in the 1970s as as recently as the last year they still had not been increased.

Damage Caps Do Not Improve the System

Tort reform proponents base their plea for these measures on two arguments. First, they claim that these laws limit frivolous lawsuits. They do not. The people who are directly impacted by these laws are not the ones who file shady claims. They instead are the ones who are able to prove in court that they have been injured and that that they have been injured so severely that they deserve a large financial payment. These are the people with the least frivolous claims, and they are the ones being hurt the most. The other argument is that tort reform is necessary to keep medical providers in the state. However, there is no evidence that medical providers fled Missouri in the three years the state had no medical malpractice cap.

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