Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has signed bipartisan legislation reinstating caps on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, in medical malpractice cases.
The signing of the new measure comes three years after the Missouri’s Supreme Court struck down a similar cap on damages as being unconstitutional. The original cap on medical malpractice cases, enacted in 2005, imposed a flat $350,000 cap on non-economic damages. In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the cap violated the common law right to a jury trial by preventing jurors from awarding the damages they deemed appropriate.
The new legislation specifies that medical malpractice cases are a statutory, rather than common law, cause of action, and thus the new caps will likely be supported by the courts.
The new limitations on damages cap most non-economic damages from medical malpractice cases at $400,000. Economic losses, such as lost wages, medical care, and other measurable losses would not be subject to the new limits. In catastrophic cases, which include paralysis, brain injury and loss of vision, the cap would be $700,000. In cases resulting in death, the cap is also $700,000.
Proponents of the caps believe it will keep health care providers in the area by reducing malpractice insurance premiums and creating a better environment for clinicians. Opponents claim that limiting how much money an injured patient can collect only further hurts injured patients and may allow offending practitioners to continue practicing without facing meaningful consequences. Many opponents also believe that juries should be responsible for awarding damages, not legislators.
In a statement, Governor Nixon praised the legislation. “This bipartisan legislation protects patients by making sure that significant financial restitution can be sought in cases of medical malpractice, while also helping to attract and retain health care providers in our state,” said Nixon.