No Facts to Support Damage Cap Law in Missouri
By Larry Bodine, Editor in Chief, Personalinjury.com.
According to Ken Vuylsteke, the President of Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, there are no facts to support the looming enactment of lawsuit damage caps in his state:
- There is no glut of lawsuits in the state.
- There is no deluge of frivolous lawsuits.
- The number of medical malpractice cases filed in Missouri is going down.
- Medical malpractice premiums are going down.
- There is no evidence that doctors are leaving the state because malpractice lawsuits.
“Logically there is no evidence and no reason to have damage caps,” said Vuylsteke, a personal injury attorney with Fox & Vuylsteke in St. Louis. “But these arguments are not winners with this Legislature.”
What there is in the state capitol is a super-majority of Republican lawmakers, willing to boost the profits of the powerful hospital and medical interests, even if it sacrifices the legal rights of medical malpractice and injury victims.
The state Supreme Court struck down an earlier, draconian damage cap law in 2012, ruling that it infringed the constitutional right to trial by jury. But today, “the legislature thinks they can circumvent the ruling by “unadopting” the common law that existed when the Missouri Constitution was adopted,” Vuylsteke said. “They are trying an end run around the constitutional problem because they have a veto-proof majority in House and Senate.”
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state House 117 to 44, and outnumber Democrats 25 to 9 in the state Senate. The majority believes the propaganda of the chamber of commerce and the medical cartel that without damage caps, malpractice premiums might go up and doctors might leave the state.
“But there is no evidence of it,” Vuylsteke said.
Fearing the worst
On March 17, the Missouri Senate approved a $400,000 cap on damages for botched medical procedures and a $700,000 cap in catastrophic injuries and wrongful death jury awards. The bill conflicts with an even worse damage-cap bill approved by the House on March 4. A conference committee will have to see if a compromise is possible, but Vuylsteke fears the worst.
“In the old days we had representatives who were experts in torts, and these bills would be laughed off the floor,” Vuylsteke said. “But we’ve seen the rise of lobbyists and special interests. With their numbers they will try to get the law through this year.”
“No one in our organization of 1,400 trial lawyers believe that the caps are constitutional or that they are needed,” he said. If the legislation goes into law, he expects to see a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. “The new law will be attacked by a person who was grievously injured. But even so, it will be the law of the state for seven years.”