The Missouri Supreme Court is the latest state supreme court to overturn legislative attempts to impose caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. In a 4-3 ruling, the court found the statute was unconstitutional. Specifically, the court found the cap violates the right to a jury trial which has been imbedded in the Missouri state constitution since 1820.
Like many other states, Missouri had passed a law that imposed caps on damages in all medical malpractice cases regardless of the harm or conduct. First passed in 2005, Missouri's law imposed a $350,000 cap on non-economic like pain and suffering, disability, and disfigurement. The law was the centerpiece of the Governor's tort form package. Since the court's decision overturning the law, the Governor of the state stated the court's decision will be harmful to doctors and hospitals. In contrast, the ruling was praised by medical malpractice lawyers and other consumer advocates who said the cap would have left the most severely injured and disabled residents without adequate money to compensate them for their substantially altered lives.
In its ruling, the court relied heavily on its state constitution. Within the Bill of Rights of the constitution, its states "that the right of a trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate." When the constitution was enacted in 1820, the state's residents had a common law right to seek damages for medical malpractice claims. Thus, "any limit on damages that restricts the jury's fact-finding role violates the constitutional right to trial by jury," said the court.
In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court was asked to rule on a 2005 statute passed by its legislature imposing a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages against doctors in medical malpractice cases. The court overturned the statute finding the law violated the Illinois Constitution. Despite admonitions by the insurance lobby, in the two plus years since the court's ruling, there has been no explosion in medical malpractice lawsuits, payouts, or doctors fleeing the state. In fact, medical malpractice payouts have remained flat over the last decade while malpractice insurance companies have made records profits.
Ozark First, High Court Overturns Pillar Of Former Gov. Blunt's Tort Reform, July 31, 2012.
San Francisco Chronicle, Mo. Court Overturns 2005 Cap On Liability Lawsuits, July 31, 2005.
JD Supra, Medical Malpractice In Illinois - Caps Gone But Debate Continues, November 29, 2011.
ITLA, The Whole Truth About Medical Malpractice And Insurance, 2010.