Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down Medical Malpractice Damage Caps

Our civil court system has long provided a means for those injured through the negligence of another to seek fair compensation for their injuries. In the event that a doctor's mistake deprives a baby of oxygen and results in a lifetime injury, a family can hold the doctor and possibly clinic responsible through the civil system. At trial, a jury decides if the physician made a mistake, and if so whether the patient should be compensated. But what happens when the jury's power is taken away?

Missouri was one of many states that put damage caps on medical liability suits. As a result, those injured by a doctor's mistake or negligence were often limited to compensation of no more than $350,000. While this is a lot of money, it often does not cover the cost of caring for a person suffering from a lifelong, debilitating injury.

Damage caps removed the ability of the jury to compensate the injured party. The jury could no longer decide the amount of money needed to cover medical and rehabilitative costs as well as the pain and suffering tied to these injuries.

Recently, Missouri's Supreme Court made the decision to strike down these medical liability damage caps and restore the power to determine the appropriate amount of compensation to the jury.

Case Behind the Ruling

The decision stems back to the case of a mother, 39 weeks pregnant, who sought aid from her doctor. She informed the doctor that the fetus was decreasing in activity and that she was experiencing cramping. The physician failed to discuss the significance of decreased fetal movement and did not perform any additional monitoring.

The following day, the mother rushed to the hospital and received an emergency c-section. The infant experienced irreparable brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. The birth injury will result in a lifetime of pain and suffering.

With the arbitrary damage caps, the jury could not fully compensate the victim. The family did not receive enough to pay for their child's lifelong care. At some point, their child would become dependent on government medical assistance.

Details and Impact of Supreme Court's Decision

Missouri's Supreme Court struck down the caps, because it found the right to jury trial one of the basic rights afforded by the state's constitution. This included the right of the jury to determine the damage inflicted on the victim.

Article I, Section 22(a) of the Missouri Constitution holds that "the right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate." The Court found that allowing the legislature to limit the amount a jury could award took the power out of the hands of the jury, in direct contradiction to the Missouri State Constitution.

Notably, the Court holds "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."

The ruling will provide victims of medical malpractice just compensation for their injuries. Monetary damages may cover medical and rehabilitative expenses such as the cost of physical therapy, medical devices like wheel chairs or even the need for in-home care. Compensation is also available to cover pain and suffering in some cases.

If you or a loved one is injured as the result of a physician's negligence, compensation may be available. Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your unique situation and better preserve your legal rights and remedies.