The strong efforts of tort reform advocates to install stringent damage caps on noneconomic (pain and suffering) damages in medical malpractice cases are being responded to in negative ways in a growing number of states that reject the notion as being unconstitutional.
Missouri is the latest case in point.
What drove that state's Supreme Court to strike down Missouri's $350,000 noneconomic damages ceiling in a recent ruling was a case involving a birth injury that occurred at a Springfield hospital. A jury found for the mother in that case, awarding her $1.5 million for pain and suffering following what was deemed to be hospital and physicians' negligence resulting in disabling brain injuries to her baby son. The judge reduced the damage amount to $350,000 to comply with Missouri's statutory limit.
The high court deemed that to be an intrusion into a person's right to a jury trial, which includes the right to have the jury determine the appropriate amount of damages in a case. Until that right was recently curtailed by statutory enactment, stated the Court, it was "not subject to legislative limits on damages."
The tort reform movement -- favored predominantly by medical associations and congressional Republicans -- is hitting bumps in the road in many states, with Missouri being just the latest example. There are currently about two dozen states with capped economic damages, but that number has been greatly reduced by court rulings in many states that have pronounced damage ceilings unconstitutional.
Those states include Illinois, Georgia, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington and Alabama.
Source: Medscape, "Missouri Supreme Court strikes down malpractice cap," Robert Lowes, Aug. 1, 2012