Last week the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a medical malpractice cap in a 4-3 decision. The cap limited non-economic damages to $350,000. In place since 2005, the court ruled that the cap was unconstitutional as it violated patients’ rights to trial by jury.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled on the cap after a mother, whose son suffered brain injuries due to a delay in an emergency C-section, filed a lawsuit. She was initially awarded $5 million but that was later reduced under the medical malpractice cap law. Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman stated that the decision would allow for individuals such as Nathan to receive the jury’s award for future medical care.
Missouri isn’t the only state dealing with this issue. In Florida, a similar Supreme Court decision is expected to be made over the summer. The case is based on the estate of Michelle McCall who passed away when her physical condition was neglected after she gave birth to a child at a military hospital. Under Florida law, the damages cap is constitutional only so long as there is an “overwhelming public necessity” that permits the restriction. Her estate’s attorneys are arguing that the insurance market is now stable and that the restrictions on the rights of victims of medical malpractice are no longer warranted.
The debate on medical malpractice tort reform is nothing new. In addition to examining the constitutional rights of a patient, research is being conducted on the effectiveness of the caps on medical costs. For example, a recent study on the tort reform in Texas found that health care costs have not been reduced since the introduction of the cap.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Medical Malpractice Cap is Struck Down by Missouri Supreme Court,” Blythe Bernhard and Virginia Young, 01 August 2012
Wall Street Journal Law Blog, “Missouri Court Rules for Unlimited Liability Payouts,” Steve Eder, 01 August 2012