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Win for Victims of Medical Malpractice – Missouri Supreme Court Rules Limits on Non-Economic Damage Are Unconstitutional

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The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that the statutory limits placed on the amount of non-economic damages plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases can recover is unconstitutional because it violates a party's right to a jury trial. Those are damages for things like "pain and suffering", and other damages that are not easily quantified.

Missouri originally placed limits on the amount of non-economic damages in 1986. At that time, the limit was $350,000, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2005, then Governor Matt Blunt signed a law that further limited the amount injured parties could recover for non-economic damages to a flat cap of $350,000, with no inflation adjustment. Both limits were passed at the urging of insurance companies in response to a supposed "crisis" affecting medical malpractice premiums and the cost of healthcare. Even at that time it was passed, there was little actual evidence that the increase in insurance premiums or rising medical costs were directly related to awards in medical malpractice cases. In fact, between the time tort reform was originally passed in 1986 and the limit was further reduced in 2005, claims and awards for medical malpractice cases decreased throughout the state. Insurers were suffering fewer losses; yet, they continued to raise malpractice premiums almost 50% during that time.

Since 1999, the amount of claims resulting in payment has largely remained stable, yet the cost of healthcare and medical malpractice premiums have continued to rise. People in support of tort reform claim that these increased costs are due to "frivolous lawsuits" and "run away juries" awarding excessive judgments. There is no scientific data to support this. They also claim that prior to tort reform, doctors were basically fleeing the state in droves. Yet these reforms have only reduced healthcare spending by about 0.5%, and the number of physicians in the state has only increased by about 2%. There has, however, been a significant drop in the number of claims filed in the state and medical malpractice insurers have become more profitable.

Click here to view the full Missouri Supreme Court opinion.