Medical Malpractice Cap Legislation: Signed by Missouri Governor

The efforts made to reinstate limits on lawsuit awards in medical malpractice cases have yielded a fruitful result.  On May 7, 2015, Governor Jay Nixon signed the Senate Bill 239 into a law, amending Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 1.010, 538.205, and 538.210, for Missouri medical malpractice cases.

Prior to this, healthcare providers faced limitless verdicts in most of the medical malpractice cases. This new law is likely to cap the verdicts in terms of amounts. The current legislation is designed to protect Missouri’s healthcare providers who were vulnerable to limitless judgments and ever-increasing malpractice insurance premiums. Without caps, physicians and other providers are motivated to relocate their medical practices to other states.

This is not the first time that lawmakers have attempted to cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. In 2005, former Governor Matt Blunt signed a similar law (House Bill No. 393 amending Mo. Rev. Stat. § 538.210) that provided for a $350,000 non-economic damages cap in medical malpractice cases. Despite the Legislature’s intent, the 2005 law only provided temporary relief to Missouri’s healthcare providers. In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court declared the caps as unconstitutional except in case of wrongful death. The caps violated a plaintiff’s constitutional right to trial by jury for common law causes of action.[1] See Watts ex rel. Watts v. Lester E. Cox Med. Ctrs., 376 S.W.3d 633 (2012). In order to address the constitutional concerns that invalidated the 2005 legislation, the new law provides that medical malpractice actions are now statutory causes of action rather than common law causes of action. Legislators believe the new Bill 239 will allow the legislation to survive any court challenges questioning its constitutionality.

Under this new law, the aggrieved is not allowed to recover damages in excess of $400,000 for the non-economic damages arising out of the medical malpractice case.[2] In case of catastrophic personal injury or death, the limit to damages has been raised to $700,000 and these limits will tend to increase by 1.7% annually.[3] While passing the bill, Governor Nixon said[4]“The bill signing marks a successful completion of a bi-partisan effort to ensure that our healthcare providers can do what they do best: help and heal Missourians in need.”

He further added — “We needed to devise an approach that would protect patients by making sure that appropriate financial restitution can be sought and garnered in serious cases where there is medical malpractice. Taking this dissonance away and giving cost certainty, while still protecting the rights of folks who are damaged, strikes the right balance.”

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