The Missouri Supreme Court decided to strike down caps on payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits. The Court determined that the 2005 state law which placed an arbitrary cap on non-economic damages at $350,000 in medical malpractice cases violated the right to trial by jury. The Court declared that “the right to trial by jury… is not subject to legislative limits on damages.”
For context, non-economic damages are different from economic damages such as lost wages and medical bills. Non-economic damages are provided to compensate for pain and suffering.
The case which led to the Court’s decision was a medical malpractice case filed by a mother whose son suffered a life-altering brain injury during birth. Her claim was against the medical center and doctors who performed the birth. A jury awarded the mother and son $1.45 million in non-economic damages after determining that the medical center and doctors were negligent. A judge then reduced the award to $350,000, which led to the appeal up to the state’s Supreme Court, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Unfortunately, a decision against non-economic damage caps is not typical. In fact, many states have embraced these arbitrary caps on damages, including Virginia. In the Commonwealth, we have a $2 million cap on damages – both economic and non-economic. It’s a patently unfair cap and routinely leads to innocent victims being left in the lurch.
For example, a woman from Clifton Forge, VA received a $3.5 million jury verdict after suffering serious complications from a foot surgery. It’s likely that jury award will be halved to $1.6 million. Here’s the problem – her medical bills and lost wages total $2.25 million, according to Roanoke.com. This means, despite a jury verdict in her favor, the innocent victim may be left with thousands of dollars of medical expenses and uncompensated time that she missed from work.
Hopefully, one day in the future, Virginia and other states who have adopted damage caps will recognize that these arbitrary caps do nothing but hurt innocent victims.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC). The attorneys publish articles and edit the Legal Examiner for the Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Northeast North Carolina regions as pro bono service.