Missouri Medical Malpractice Damage Caps Don’t Apply to Pre-2005 Injuries

The Missouri Supreme Court has limited the use of damage caps for medical malpractice lawsuits in that state, adding to a recent trend in other courts nationwide, some of which have struck down malpractice damage caps altogether after finding that they violate an individuals right to have a trial by jury. 

In an opinion issued on Tuesday, the state’s highest court stopped short of ruling that Missouri medical malpractice damage caps are unconstitutional, instead deciding to limit them to injuries that have occurred only after the law was passed in 2005. All pre-2005 injuries should be exempt from the cap, the judges determined, according to a story in the Joplin Globe.

Medical malpractice lawsuit caps, which override jury decisions on how much plaintiffs can be awarded for non-economic damages, have come under fire from courts and attorneys across the country. Critics say that the caps, set by lawmakers, violate the constitutional right to a trial by jury, because they allow the legislature to step on the toes of jury decisions regarding how much a victim should be awarded as compensation for pain and suffering caused by negligent medical care.

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Proponents of the caps say that they help prevent doctors from leaving the states and keep medical malpractice liability insurance rates down.

The Missouri ruling on the state’s malpractice cap comes the same week that the Georgia Supreme Court struck down Georgia medical malpractice caps as unconstitutional, siding unanimously with critics who say that it is a violation of the right to trial by jury. It also follows a decision in February by the Illinois Supreme Court, which struck down Illinois medical malpractice award limits in that state on similar grounds.

California was the first state to enact a damage cap in 1975, specifically limiting the non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of 2005 ten states capped recoveries specifically on medical malpractice cases and another 22 have caps that are not limited to medical malpractice. About a dozen states also have caps on punitive damages.

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