When you go to a physician, you expect that they will use their best efforts
to treat your condition. Unfortunately, many physicians fall short of
this standard and commit
medical malpractice, which sometimes results in patient injuries (or death in some cases).
When this happens, you would expect that the law would allow you to seek
compensation for your injuries from the physician. However, if some Missouri
lawmakers have their way, your right to seek compensation would be curtailed,
as they are seeking to impose a limit on the amount that may be recovered
in medical malpractice lawsuits.
BILL WOULD CAP DAMAGES
Currently, under Missouri law, the right to sue for medical malpractice
is a common law right. This means that the right comes from centuries
of court decisions. However, State Rep. Eric Burlison recently proposed
House Bill 1173, which would change all of that if it were passed.
If passed, the bill would eliminate the common law right to sue for medical
malpractice. Instead, it would make such lawsuits a statutory right, which
means that the legislature can amend and take away the right at will.
In addition, the bill would limit noneconomic damages (i.e. damages such
as pain and suffering) in medical malpractice lawsuits to $350,000.
This is not the first time the legislature has attempted to pass a cap
on malpractice damages. In 2005, the legislature passed a law with a similar
cap. However, the law did not abolish the common law right to sue for
malpractice. Once the law was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court in
2012, the court ruled that the law infringed on the common law right to
sue. As a result, the law was struck down.
The bill's supporters claim that it would lower the costs of malpractice
insurance for providers by eliminating the possibility of high dollar
verdicts. Supporters theorize that by doing this, providers will pass
the savings onto the patient.
Critics of the bill point to numerous studies that contradict these assertions.
For example, a recent study from Johns Hopkins found that only 7.9 percent
of malpractice verdicts and settlements nationwide were above $1 million.
Furthermore, the annual spending of insurance companies on these high
verdicts and settlements amounted to less than one percent of the amount
spent on healthcare each year in the United States. As a result, the claim
that malpractice caps would significantly lower healthcare costs is very doubtful.
CONSULT AN ATTORNEY
If the bill in its current form were passed, it would likely have little
or no effect on healthcare costs in Missouri. At the same time, physicians
who fail to provide their patients with a minimum standard of quality
would largely be shielded from the consequences of their negligence.
As a result of the bill, if you or a loved one has been injured because
of a medical mistake, it is wise to seek legal help before any limits
to your recovery are put into place. An experienced medical malpractice
attorney can advise you of your options and work to ensure that you are
fairly compensated for your injuries.