Missouri Lawmakers Try Again to Cap Medical Malpractice Verdicts

In Illinois, legislation has been passed three times to limit recoveries in medical negligence claims. Each time the Illinois Supreme Court has overturned such restrictions on the ground that they are unconstitutional. Missouri is going through the same exercise once again. About ten years ago, Missouri last limited some civil lawsuit awards, but the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the legislation.

Now businesses can face lawsuits with unlimited punitive damages and civil injury lawsuits after the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a $500,000 limit on awards in September 2014, two years after striking down other limits for medical-malpractice awards.

It has been reported that business groups and Republican leaders there want the decision striking down limits for medical-malpractice rewards to be reversed and now are attempting a state constitutional amendment to ensure the court cannot interfere with caps again. “Missouri will continue to be a judicial hellhole” if caps are not put in place, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard of Joplin, Mo. Richard says his constitutional amendment effort capping punitive damages is his top priority for the current senate session.

In addition, the Republican-controlled state legislature in Missouri is focused on restoring caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, which were a part of a larger lawsuit reform package the legislature passed and then-Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law in 2005.

The supporters of a limit on jury awards for non-economic damages, such as for pain and suffering, would provide certainty for businesses, hospitals and doctors while still allowing for substantial damages to be provided to the injured or killed for the negligence of others. Actual economic damages, which include lost wages, wouldn’t be capped.

The 2005 law lowered limits on the non-economic damages and medical-malpractice cases from $579,000 to $350,000.

In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the medical-malpractice caps and the civil injury caps and found that these caps violated a citizen’s right to a jury trial.

The argument in favor of limiting jury verdicts in medical-malpractice cases makes the assumption that without caps, insurance premiums would rise. In addition, the top lobbyist for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that there will be a similar effect on businesses without punitive damage caps. The immediate past president of the Missouri Association of Trial Lawyers said caps in the civil injury lawsuits clearly violated individual rights and showed the legislature does not trust juries to make decisions. Punitive damages are only awarded in egregious cases where the bad acts were willful and wanton or with utter indifference for the consequences one’s acts or omissions.

The efforts to limit non-economic damages in medical-malpractice lawsuits since the 2012 Supreme Court decision have passed through the Missouri House but stalled in the Senate.

Illinois does not have caps on medical-malpractice lawsuits, although it does bar punitive damages in medical-malpractice lawsuits, but otherwise the law allows such awards by juries in the most egregious of other civil cases.

Robert Kreisman has been a member of the Missouri and Illinois bars since 1976.  Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice cases, nursing home abuse cases and birth injury abuse cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including River Grove, Orland Park, Hinsdale, Wheaton, Aurora, Bolingbrook, Romeoville, Joliet, Richton Park, Alsip, Blue Island, Palatine, Matteson, Wheaton, Hinsdale and Palos Hills, Ill.

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