Missouri Seeks Cap For Medical Malpractice Damages

A Missouri House committee recently endorsed a new law that would put a limit on the awards from medical malpractice suits. The law would cap non-economic awards to a mere $350,000. The cap won’t affect factors like lost income or medical expenses.

Those supporting the bill claim that it’s needed to prevent malpractice insurance costs from increasing dramatically and forcing many physicians to leave the state or close their practices. Those opposing the bill claim the law would let irresponsible doctors get away with malpractice.

Republican Representative Bill White from Joplin, MO says that, if left unchecked, large malpractice awards will force doctors and hospitals to pay higher premiums, inflate already-bloated medical costs, and make it harder to attract doctors to risky fields like neurosurgery.

Representative White promoted a bill to change the Missouri constitution to allow the Legislature to put limits on non-economic malpractice awards. Instead of voting on White’s proposal, the committee accepted a similar proposal brought forth by Republican Representative Eric Burlison of Springfield.

Between 2005 and 2012, Missouri already possessed laws to limit non-economic malpractice damages, until they were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Tim Jones, the Republican House Speaker, claims that putting the limits back into effect was among his highest priorities this session.

However, those who oppose the cap believe it would become harder for people to file malpractice suits. David Zevan, a medical malpractice lawyer from St. Louis, says that while he respects doctors, he doesn’t think it was okay to cover up the issue of malpractice.

Mr. Zevan once represented a woman who was a retired teacher. The woman lost an eye after surgeons operated on the wrong one. Because she was retired and had later received the correct operation, her lost eye was considered non-economic damage.

Mr. Zevan said, “It’s shocking. If they reinstate the limit, I’ll have to tell her, ‘I’m sorry, but not long ago, the law preemptively determined how much your lost eye was worth.’ That’s not fair to her.”

House Speaker Tim Jones said, “My party in the Senate needs to be held accountable and decide whether they really want to repair the state’s healthcare crisis. We hope this will become a bigger priority and that it’ll make it to the governor’s desk or to a public vote.”

The committee held a hearing on the bill last month, but so far has not voted on it. Rep. Eric Burlison feels that the proposal is merely a distraction and there will be another push for higher limits. However, he claims that other states with this sort of law had set the cap even lower than Missouri’s.