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Appeal involves issue of noneconomic damages in wrongful death med mal cases

Noneconomic damages can be a very important aspect of medical malpractice litigation, particularly in cases where economic damages are—for whatever reason—not adequate to justly compensate an injured patient. Unfortunately, some states put caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, including Missouri.

At present, there is a court challenge to a state law capping the amount of noneconomic damages plaintiffs may receive in medical malpractice cases. The 2005 law capped noneconomic damages is medical malpractice cases at $350,000, but the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that caps on noneconomic damages were unconstitutional. That was a personal injury case, however, and the issue on appeal is whether the cap applies in medical malpractice cases involving allegations of wrongful death. 

The appeal is based on the 2011 death of a woman whose life ended after a St. Louis-area cardiologist performed a heart test which blocked blood flow to her heart. The jury in that case awarded $9 million in noneconomic damages, but the trial court reduced the award to $350,000 as per the 2005 cap. The reason for the court’s decision in that case was that limiting noneconomic caps in medical malpractice cases violated a plaintiff’s right to a jury trial.

The issue on appeal is specifically what lawmakers intended with the 2005 cap. On one side, the argument is that lawmakers intended to cap noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases, but not personal injury cases. On the other side, the argument is that lawmakers intended to cap noneconomic damages in all cases.

We’ll continue looking at this issue in our next post.  

Sources:

St. Louis Public Radio, “Missouri Supreme Court to decide whether wrongful death cases are subject to caps on damages,” Marshall Griffin, Oct. 21, 2015.

Daily Journal, “Family challenges state caps on damages in medical malpractice cases to Missouri Supreme Court,” Summer Ballentine Oct. 21, 2015.

Claims Journal, “Missouri Medical Malpractice Limits on Noneconomic Damages Challenged Again,” Summer Ballentine, Oct. 23, 2015. 

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