October 28th, 2012 9:00am
The Missouri Supreme Court has now, finally reached a decision on a landmark issue which is presently being considered by many other courts across the country. Are statutory non-economic damage caps in medical malpractice cases constitutional? The Missouri Supreme Court’s answer? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
In 2005, the Republican majority Missouri Legislature, following countless lobbying efforts and heavy pressure from the healthcare industry, passed and enacted statutory caps in medical malpractice cases for non-economic damage awards, such as those for mental pain and suffering. How did this legislation affect the injured patients of the state? Well, in 2006, when Naython Watts was born with disabling brain injuries due to the medical negligence of his healthcare providers in wrongfully delaying a caesarian section procedure, his family’s jury verdict of $1.45 million in non-economic damages was reduced to a disgraceful $350,000 pursuant to the recently enacted mandatory caps. Now, you should be asking yourself, does this seem fair and just? I for one question whether the state representatives and senators who passed this legislation have ever had life experience with a special needs child. I could be wrong, but my gut feeling tells me probably not. Thankfully for this child’s family, the judicial branch has seemingly now righted the legislative branch’s wrong.
In 2012, after years of suffering through a lengthy appellate process, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the damage caps, finding that, “statutory limits on those damages directly curtail the individual right to one of the most significant constitutional roles performed by the jury – the determination of damages.”
We will just have to wait and see if other state supreme courts considering the same issues, such as the Florida Supreme Court for example, follow the seemingly well founded logic and rationale of the Missouri Supreme Court. If not, it will be quite interesting to see how the various courts justify denying injured patients and their families the damages that the respective juries have said they are entitled to with their verdicts, after hearing and weighting all the facts and evidence presented at trial. Stay tuned!
Cameron Stephenson is a lawyer with the Levin, Papantonio law firm in Pensacola, Florida, and handles medical malpractice and other wrongful death cases. He has devoted his legal practice to fighting for the rights of Florida’s injured patients.
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