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Posted on August 6, 2012 by

Medical Malpractice Limits Ruled Unconstitutional



On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases violate the Right to Trial by Jury in the Missouri Constitution. The court explicitly overruled the precedent set in the 1993 Adams v. Children’s Mercy Hospital opinion (848 S.W.2d 535). The court also held that the trial court’s calculation on periodic payments was flawed.

In 1986, Missouri placed a limit of $350,000 on medical malpractice cases, that limit included an annual adjustment for inflation. In 2005, the limit passed in 1986 was changed to remove the inflationary adjustment and reduce the cap back to the 1986 level of $350,000.

The limit that was overturned by Watts was the $350,000 limit passed in 2005 in House Bill 383. The bill included many other provisions including the 51% threshold for joint and several liability, a $500,000 limit on punitive damages, restrictions on venue and an enhanced affidavit of merit requirement in medical malpractice cases. The remainder of the provisions passed in 2005 are unaffected by the Watts ruling.

The ruling is a victory for anyone who believes in the Constitution of Missouri as the supreme law of the land.This ruling means that the Constitution still protects people like Naython Watts. Our country was founded on the idea of liberty and justice for all including the right to a jury trial in civil disputes. Big businesses and insurance companies try to avoid taking responsibility for the people they hurt by attacking the constitution and limiting a person’s access to the courts. The Missouri Supreme Court stood up for the rights of the people and told big business and insurance companies to play fair.

Key Quotes from the Decision:

On the Long History of a Right to Jury Trial: “Accordingly, civil actions for damages resulting from personal wrongs have been tried by juries since 1820. Diehl, 95 S.W.3d at 92. Watts’ action for medical negligence, including her claim for non-economic damages, ‘falls into that category’ and is the same type of case that was recognized at common law when the constitution was adopted in 1820.”

On the Violation of that Right by §538.210: “The individual right to trial by jury cannot ‘remain inviolate’ when an injured party is deprived of the jury’s constitutionally assigned role of determining damages according to the particular facts of the case. Section 538.210 necessarily and unavoidably violates the state constitutional right to trial by jury. … The argument that section 538.210 does not interfere with the right to trial by jury because the jury had a practically meaningless opportunity to assess damages simply “pays lip service to the form of the jury but robs it of its function.”

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury or death at the hands of a negligent doctor, nurse, hospital, or other medical professional, you need an experienced St. Louis medical malpractice attorney fighting for you. The personal injury attorneys at Hoffman & Gelfman handle medical malpractice claims in St. Louis and throughout the state of Missouri. Call (866) 298-1020 today to discuss your medical malpractice case with an compassionate personal injury attorney who understands the pain, frustration, and financial difficulties you are facing. We can help you seek justice, monetary compensation, and peace of mind during this difficult time.
For more information on St. Louis medical malpractice cases, visit ourresource center.