The Supreme Court of Missouri will soon decide whether a state law that places a cap on the amount of money victims can receive for damages from medical malpractice violates the constitution. Similar laws have been enacted in other states – including Ohio. The Court’s decision will have a far reaching impact, which could lead to challenges to similar state laws around the country – including Ohio.
The 2005 Missouri law places a $350,000 limit on the amount of money victims can receive for “non-economic” damages – e.g., physical pain, emotional suffering, and mental anguish. The challenge to this law comes from a 2006 birth in which the medical staff failed to act when the baby showed signs of fetal distress. The baby suffered severe brain injuries as a result.
The baby is five years old today, but has the mental capacity of a three-year-old. He suffers from cerebral palsy and will never be able to walk or care for himself.
The baby’s parents filed suit in 2009, and the jury decided that the medical staff was negligent, and that the family should receive $4.8 Million – including $1.45 Million in “non-economic damages.” The jurors were not told about the cap on non-economic damages. After the verdict, the court reduced those damages to $350,000.
The Missouri Supreme Court will have to decide whether the law is constitutional, or whether it violates the rights of citizens to a jury trial. The jury decided that the family should receive $1.45 Million, but the court decided that the amount should receive only 25% of the jury’s award.
The Court must also decide whether the law violates the rights of citizens to equal protection under the law. If the baby had been hit by a truck, instead of being injured by medical malpractice, there would be no reduction in the jury’s award. This means that victims are treated differently based on who injured them, not by how badly they are injured. This violates the rights of injured victims to equal protection under the law.
Medical malpractice is the failure of a health care provider to act as a reasonably careful person under like or similar circumstances. If an injury or death results from a medical staff or facility’s negligent act or failure to act, as in the case in this story, the injured party (and family members) have the right to recover damages.
Source: News-Leader.com, “Cap on malpractice awards challenged in state Supreme Court,” Josh Rollins, Mar. 27, 2012-03-28