The repeated attempted to limits the rights of medical malpractice victims continues in our neighboring state to the south. State lawmakers in Missouri tried last week to pass a bill that would once again place arbitrary caps on damages that a jury could award in medical malpractice cases.
The state previously had such a cap, but the state Supreme Court struck down those laws last year. The court reasoned that these rules violated the residents’ right to a jury trial. In short, per the state constitution, the legislature could not randomly replace a jury’s decision of damages with its own. Making rules that apply to all cases, no matter what the specifics–even if an impartial jury finds otherwise–is a breach of rights.
In arguing against the law, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial makes the reality strikingly clear: “The only recourse for patients is the court system. Lawmakers take away that avenue when they limit damages to a figure that insurance companies can write off as a matter of doing business. They make health care less safe. They take away personal rights that have been guaranteed since statehood. Insurance companies win. Everybody else loses.”
To highlight the point, the editorial board offered the example of a state resident who–the very day that the bill was debated–fell victim to a terrible medical error. The 53-year old woman was left with severe disability, unable to talk and requiring around-the-clock nursing care, as a result of a “never event.” The woman was scheduled to have surgery to deal with a few minor strokes she suffered. But for inexplicable reasons, the medical professionals operated on the wrong side of her brain and skull.
Yet, it is patients like the woman in that case who would be most affected by changes in the law to arbitrarily cap non-economic damages. Her family would face severe restraints on recovery because of the law, even though the error is obvious.
What’s worse, as the editorial points out, other patients may be affected. That is because the sum paid by the insurer following even the worst errors–like this one–is not so high as to incentivize the most comprehensive efforts to make sure that similar mistakes are never repeated. Medical institutions, like all businesses, are motivated by finances. If it hits their pocket book, they will adapt for safety. If the hit is minimal, there will be far less reason to act to prevent errors.
Protection Following Med Mal Injuries in Illinois
Fortunately, even though Illinois lawmakers have passed versions of these “tort reform” laws in the past, arbitrary damage award caps have been struck down in Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court has consistently found that taking away the power of juries to decide these issues in a case by case basis from the evidence presented to them violated the explicit requirements of the Illinois Constitution.
Yet, past action does not guarantee protection from future attempts to similarly limit the rights of state residents. For that reason, our legal team encourages everyone to spread accurate information of the dangerous nature of these laws. Nothing is gained by regular community members except diminished legal protections of accountability following poor medical care.
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