Another Supreme Court Rules Medical Malpractice Caps are Unconstitutional
Cleveland, OH (Law Firm Newswire) October 5, 2012 - Caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases are being struck down slowly but surely in various states.
“Missouri’s Supreme Court has recently ruled that the cap on pain and suffering damages in a medical malpractice case, which is set at $350,000, is unconstitutional, as it deprives patients/victims of their right to a trial by jury. It’s about time rulings like this are being handed down,” said Christopher Mellino, a Cleveland medical malpractice lawyer of Mellino Robenalt LLC, in Ohio. “For those who strongly believe in constitutional rights, this decision is welcomed with open arms.”
The Court’s opinion included a bit of history relating to the Missouri Constitution of 1820, which in a nutshell, stated residents of Missouri had a common law “right” to ask for damages for medical malpractice. To limit damages is to limit a jury’s fact finding function, which is in violation of the constitutional right to trial by jury.
The case involved a mother whose son was born with catastrophic brain damage. The doctor in charge of the delivery delayed an emergency C-section. At trial, the jury awarded the boy $1.45 million for pain and suffering. The award was reduced by the judge to $350,000, in accordance with Missouri’s cap for medical malpractice cases. “On appeal, this decision was overruled,” explained Mellino.
“What was the reaction of the state medical association? It was not impressed, with their president suggesting the decision turned the clock back to a time when there was a medical malpractice lawsuit crisis. On reflection, if there was a crisis, it only developed because there ‘was’ medical malpractice present. So, really, they have that backwards, particularly when it comes to patient rights,” Mellino remarked.
Statistics released by the Missouri Medical Association revealed that since their medical malpractice law had been enacted, in 2005, lawsuits dropped by just about 58 percent, and there had been an influx of roughly 1,000 doctors, and that medical malpractice insurance premiums had dropped almost $27 million.
“The reason they dropped,” Mellino suggested, “may be less likely due to the cap and more likely due to the fact that with the cap, patients could not get justice and could not sue for fair damages, and thus had to try and cope on their own, at a significant financial disadvantage. In light of this recent decision, medical malpractice patients now have the chance to sue for injuries caused by medical negligence, and that is a good thing.”
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