Missouri lawmakers passed a bill that will set a limit to awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. The Missouri Senate approved a $400,000 cap in damages for botched medical procedures and a $700,000 cap in catastrophic injuries. They also agreed to raise an existing cap on wrongful death cases from $350,000 to $700,000.
The law reinstated damage limits which were overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2012. The court decided a restriction on the amount of damages a jury could award was in violation of the constitutional right to a jury trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
MU law professor Philip Peters said the state legislature is attempting to subvert the constitutional right to personal injury litigation by changing the functions by which it operates.
“Legislature is trying an unusual tack here,” Peters said. “It’s essentially trying to end the common law right to personal injury litigation and then reenact it by statutes, since newly created statutory rights do not have the right to a jury trial.”
The intention behind the damages limitation is to artificially lower insurance premiums for in medical malpractice cases. However, Mark Ludwig, an attorney at Carson & Coil in Jefferson City, said the law will ultimately benefit insurance companies to an unprecedented degree.
“They have not lowered their premiums,” Ludwig said. “Premiums have stayed the same or gone up. I think in the year before the caps were struck down, the insurance companies had had record years on their loss ratios and in their profit.”
The bill, which was sponsored by Republican Sen. Dan Brown, was passed as a compromise between Republicans and Democrats, who had shot down previous efforts to pass damages caps through the State Senate. The Senate voted 28 to 2 in favor of the bill, and it will be voted on by the Missouri House of Representatives this week.