The state of Missouri imposes a cap of $350,000 on medical malpractice cases, regardless of whether the jury thinks the amount of harm caused by medical negligence deserves a much greater penalty. These limits are unfair to the victims of such negligence, who often are left being unable to perform basic activities without great difficulty, and serve to provide an “escape hatch” for health care providers who would otherwise be fully accountable for the harms caused by their negligence as determined by the court. Fortunately, this may change in the near future. A new case before the Missouri Supreme Court challenges these limits, with the aim of convincing the Court to render the statute establishing the cap unconstitutional.
Cerebral Palsy can be a consequence of medical malpractice while a baby is being born, with effects that are permanent and can be extremely damaging. In a recent case, a jury decided that the family of a victim of Cerebral Palsy as a result of medical malpractice was entitled to $1.45 million in so-called “non-economic damages”, which was then reduced to the maximum under the cap. Though the arguments before the Court now are purely Constitutional ones, dealing with whether the statute violates the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary as well as the fundamental right to a trial by jury, the result will have a major impact on the way medical malpractice cases are handled in Missouri.
If the cap on damages is found to be unconstitutional, it could be possible for plaintiffs in successful medical malpractice cases to receive the full amount that they should have originally recovered; given the nature of the harms caused by medical malpractice to persist potentially long after the conclusion of any legal action, it is essential that plaintiffs receive the compensation they are entitled to. Damages are awarded in the amounts that they are for a good reason; it is not right or fair for any victim of medical malpractice for an artificial limit to be in place. The cap needs to be overturned so that the victims of medical malpractice can receive the full extent of what the due process of law, rather than politicians in Jefferson City, determined they should receive.