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State Supreme Court strikes down damages cap

In late March, we wrote about a state Supreme Court case that we thought Ohio readers may be interested in. The case dealt with a Missouri state law that placed a cap on the amount of money victims can receive for non-monetary damages resulting from medical malpractice. Recently, the state’s highest court decided to strike down the law, finding that it violated “the right to trial by jury.”

As it stood, the 2005 law placed a $350,000 limit on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering or mental anguish. The law was successfully challenged by a mother who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit after her son suffered “catastrophic and disabling brain injuries” during birth.

According to the lawsuit, attending physicians failed to act even though the infant was showing signs of distress in the womb. Now 5-years-old, the child suffers from cerebral palsy and will never mature beyond the mental capacity of a 3-year-old.

After finding that medical malpractice had caused the birth injuries, a Missouri jury awarded the family almost $5 million in total damages, of which $1.45 million was for non-monetary injuries. However, that amounted was reduced to $350,000 because of the damages cap.

The family challenged the cap, arguing that it violated the constitutional right to trial by jury since it effectively reduced a jury’s award. The state’s highest court agreed with the family, declaring that “the right to trial by jury… is not subjected to legislative limits on damages.” The original jury award was reinstated.

Unfortunately, many additional states have welcomed damages caps, including Ohio. In 2005, Ohio lawmakers placed a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages in personal injury lawsuits. The damages cap in medical malpractice cases is even more restrictive. Hopefully, more state Supreme Courts will issue decisions for victims like the one in this case.

Source:  The Legal Examiner, “Missouri Supreme Court Rules Against Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages,” Jim Lewis, Aug. 2, 2012