Missouri Lawmakers Pass Anti-Consumer Caps on Jury Awards

Personal Injury

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Ken Vuylsteke, the President of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys By Larry Bodine, Editor in Chief, Personalinjury.com. According to Ken... Read More

Missouri lawmakers have passed new anti-consumer legislation that will have a devastating effect on patients who are maimed by bad doctors and passengers who are injured in car accidents. What’s more, the Legislature’s damage caps on jury verdicts are very likely unconstitutional.

But that doesn’t matter to the insurance industry, which is the the driving force behind the legislation. Insurance companies have trotted out all the disproven arguments -- that jury verdicts drive doctors out of the state and other falsehoods -- in a tawdry move to increase their profits.

Around the clock care

Following similar action in the state House, the Missouri Senate passed a $400,000 cap on medical malpractice damages and a $700,000 cap on recoveries for catastrophic injuries and wrongful death case.

This may seem like a high limit, until you realize that the people who are awarded these damages by juries typically need round-the-clock care for their entire lives, or that the person who was killed by another’s negligence was the sole breadwinner for a young family.

“Juries are good enough to try criminal cases and determine whether somebody goes to jail or somebody dies, but we don’t trust them to assess monetary penalties or monetary awards against doctors?” Springfield lawyer Steve Garner told the News Tribune. He is president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys.

Recovery snatched away

It was only two years ago that the state Supreme Court struck down nearly identical damage caps in the case of a child, Naython Watts, who suffered brain injuries because of botched medical care by not one--but two doctors--just before he was born.

Naython will always need around the clock care. A home video on YouTube shows how badly the doctors ruined his life. His mother, Deborah, successfully sued the Cox Medical Center Centers in Springfield, Mo., for permanently injuring her son. She won a $1.45 million jury award for non-economic damages plus a $3.37 million award to cover future medical damages.

That’s when the damage caps kicked in, slashing the family’s damage recovery to a fraction of what he needed to live. The state Supreme Court struck down the hideous statute, saying it violated the right to trial by jury. You can read about it in my Huffington Post article, Exposing the Lie of Tort Reform.

Draconian limits

The Republican-led lawmakers want to return these draconian limits, to immunize wrongdoers from the damage they cause in other lives, and to supposedly reduce medical malpractice premiums for doctors.

But as I pointed out in an article Medical Malpractice Crisis was Bogus, says Florida Supreme Court, insurance companies don’t actually pass along any potential savings to doctors -- they just keep the additional profits for themselves. Meanwhile the the cap on legal damages serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members.

In Florida like Missouri, proponents of the damage caps claimed that runaway juries returned excessive verdicts and were causing doctors to leave the state. In reality, the number of physicians were actually increasing in the state.

In fact, research published in 2014 by Northwestern University found that there is "no evidence that cap adoption predicts an increase in total patient care physicians, in specialties that face high med mal risk (except plastic surgeons), or in rural physicians."

Personalinjury.com will continue to follow this issue in the coming weeks. Perhaps democratic Governor Jay Nixon will have the good sense to veto the lawmakers’ pernicious work. If not, it will be up to the state Supreme Court to restore justice to Missouri again.

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