JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Supreme Court overturned caps for non-economic damage awards in medical liability lawsuits.
The court ruled on Tuesday that the caps violate a person’s constitutional right to a trial by jury. The 4-3 decision comes after a trial judge reduced a jury award from $1.45 million to $350,000 to comply with the state cap.
Deborah Watts filed the suit after her son was born with what Tuesday’s decision described as “catastrophic brain injuries.” Court evidence showed that medical residents failed to perform procedures that could have prevented the injuries to Watts’ son.
The caps on non-economic awards were part of a tort reform bill passed in 2005. A press release from the Missouri State Medical Association, an advocacy group for physicians, noted that since the bill was passed, lawsuits filed against physicians have decreased by 58% and malpractice insurance premiums have decreased by $27 million across the state.
The group came out immediately with harsh criticism of the ruling. “The ruling is an immeasurable disappointment,” said MSMA President Dr. Stephen Slocum.
“It turns back the clock to a time when a medical lawsuit crisis had pushed Missouri doctors to the breaking point. Scores of physicians moved away, and access to health care was threatened in every corner of the state,” he said.