Recent Missouri Ruling on Non-Economic Damage Caps
August 14, 2012
The Missouri Supreme Court recently decided to strike down caps on payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits. The Court ruled in a 4-3 decision determining that the 2005 tort reform state law that placed a cap on non-economic damages at $350,000 in medical malpractice lawsuits violates the states’ constitutional right to a trial by jury. Non-economic damages refer to compensation for an injured party’s pain and suffering, as well as other intangible damages. The court also found that the jury hearing a medical malpractice case needs to be the entity that determines the amount of non-economic damages that are awarded in a case.
The Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger believe this is a great victory for all the victims suffering from the consequences of medical errors. Individuals who fall victim to the affects of medical malpractice can now receive the full compensation for their pain and suffering in the state of Missouri. Hopefully, other state courts with non-economic damages caps will follow suit.
Supreme Court in Missouri Rules Non-Economic Damage Caps are Unconstitutional
The case that led to the decision was a birth injuries case filed by a mother on behalf of her son who suffered catastrophic brain injuries due to a delayed emergency caesarean section. Both the medical facility and the physicians involved in the woman’s care were named as defendants in the medical malpractice claim. The mother Deborah Watts and her son Naython Watts were awarded $3.371 million in future medical damages and $1.45 million in non-economic damages by a jury after it was determined that negligence played a role in the boy’s injuries. The trial court also allowed half the future damages to be paid in a lump sum, with the other half to be paid over the next fifty years. Later, a judge reduced the amount of non-economic damages to $350,000 as required by the state law, which in turn set off an appeal by the mother. The Supreme Court found that the cap on non-economic damages was unconstitutional as it violated the right to a trial by jury.
Tort Reform and Non-Economic Damages
“Tort Reform” is a group of laws that were established to make it more difficult to file an injury claim, to obtain a trial by jury, and to collect meaningful amounts of money in those lawsuits. Tort reform has been highly controversial with much debate over the years pinning people either for or against it. Non-economic damages caps are an area of tort reform where limits are placed on intangible damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of a loved one, and loss of enjoyment of life. Placing a dollar amount on these injuries or losses is not easily quantified. In recent years, many states have passed legislation to establish caps on the compensation allowed for non-economic damages.
Supporters of this area of tort reform believe that health care costs can be lowered and medical malpractice premiums can be reduced thereby increasing the supply of physicians. Those opposing damage caps believe that the medical malpractice problem that occurs in this country will worsen with greater substandard care and more lawsuits. They believe that, without the fear of a multi-million dollar lawsuit looming, physicians will not be motivated to provide the upmost care to their patients.
Missouri is not the only state that has placed caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. There are several states that have enacted such laws at varying monetary caps on payouts including Maryland and Virginia. On the other hand, several states that previously had cap laws have been overturned including New Hampshire, Washington, Illinois, and Georgia.
In the state of Pennsylvania, caps on damages are prohibited by the state Constitution. In other words, there is no limit as to how much a court can award a plaintiff for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. In the neighboring states of New Jersey, Delaware and New York, again there are no caps placed on damages.
As discussed in a previous blog, the HBO documentary “Hot Coffee” sheds a bright light on the movement of Tort Reform and the dangers of limiting the rights of injured persons to seek justice. For years, Tort Reformists advanced a skewed version of the lawsuit against McDonald’s for burns from scalding-hot coffee as an illustration of a frivolous case resulting in an unjustified financial recovery. The producers of “Hot Coffee” tell a true factual accounting of the case and the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries that illustrates a record of McDonald’s, at best, indifference and, at worst, intentional disregard to the safety of its customers. Clearly, the case was not “frivolous” and the actual recovery was shocking in light of the woman’s injuries. The documentary goes on to provide example after example that demonstrate how caps on noneconomic damages severely penalize injured persons while protecting negligent parties.
The Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger are Dedicated to Victims of Negligent Medical Care
The Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Galfand Berger believe that victims of medical errors should receive the just and full compensation necessary for their full recovery, including damages for their pain and suffering. Therefore, we are encouraged by the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in overturning the state law in order to protect the constitutional rights of citizens. Our lawyers have witnessed firsthand the devastation negligent medical care can have on victims and their families. Often times, these undeserved and preventable injuries can cause physical and emotional harm requiring the need for lifelong care or in some cases, even death. The financial obligations of paying for medical expenses, lifelong treatments as well as the loss of wages can be an overwhelming burden. Placing a cap on damages has often left victims and their families without the means to provide the necessary care.
If you or someone you love has sustained an injury or harm due to the medical negligence of a healthcare professional, consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney such as those at Galfand Berger in Philadelphia. We understand all the intricacies of Pennsylvania medical malpractice law and have represented numerous victims and their families resulting in successful verdicts. Our compassionate malpractice lawyers will protect your rights and fight to secure for you the fair compensation to which you are entitled to under the law. We have offices conveniently located in Philadelphia, Reading, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Call Galfand Berger today at 1-800-222-8792 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a Pennsylvania or New Jersey medical malpractice lawyer or contact us online.