The Missouri Supreme Court has overturned the state’s $350,000 limit on non-economic medical malpractice awards.
The cap was a “tort reform” measure that the Missouri state legislature passed in 2005. In its 4-3 decision in the case of Watts v. Lester E. Cox Medical Centers, the Court ruled that limiting the awards is unconstitutional.
Doctors, hospitals and health care companies decried the decision, claiming that removing the cap would drive up health care costs and even prompt doctors to leave the state. Jeff Zohner, a Chesterfield, Missouri physician, told West Magazine that he knows Illinois doctors who choose to practice in Missouri to avoid the potential of a costly medical malpractice claim. However, fears of doctors leaving a state because of malpractice concerns have been raised before, and have been shown to be unfounded.
Trial attorneys and legal experts supported the Court’s decision, calling it a victory for Constitutional principles and for victims of medical malpractice. Mike Wolff, a professor of law and former Justice of the Missouri State Supreme Court, said that the ruling was unlikely to cause an increase in medical malpractice cases, as the number of annual cases has remained stable from 2002 to 2010, and very few cases reach the dollar amount of the former cap.
In the case that overturned the law, Deborah Watts filed a lawsuit against Lester E. Cox Medical Centers, claiming that medical malpractice had caused her son’s brain damage. She was awarded non-economic damages of $1.45 million, but the amount was reduced to the cap of $350,000. Watts argued successfully that the failure to honor the jury award amounted to a violation of her right to a trial by jury, protected by the Constitution.
Robert Briskman is a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer and Chicago medical
malpractice attorney with Briskman Briskman & Greenberg. To learn more call
1.877.595.4878 or visit http://www.briskmanandbriskman.com/.