There is much talk in politics addressing “tort reform” and “placing caps of noneconomic damages.” What does all this mean? Some politicians, in an effort to garner support from the insurance industry and the healthcare industry, support legislation that limits or “caps” a party’s recovery in the courtroom. In particular, there is a desire to limit the amount of money a jury can award for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship, etc. These harms that patients and their family suffer from are called noneconomic damages.
Currently, Missouri caps noneconomic damages in medical negligence actions that result in the wrongful death of the patient at $350,000.00. Noneconomic damages are not currently capped in cases where medical negligence occurs but the negligence does NOT cause death. On August 28, 2015, Senate Bill 239 will become law in Missouri, and noneconomic damages in all medical negligence cases will be capped based on the type of injury actually suffered.
Senate Bill No. 239 amends §§ 1.010, 538.205 and 538.210 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri. The amendment to § 1.010 is expressly replaces all common law causes of action for medical negligence and declares these actions to be “statutory.” The amendment to § 538.205 creates and defines a specific type of injury called “catastrophic personal injury,” which will include “quadriplegia,” “paraplegia,” “loss of two or more limbs,” certain types of brain injury, certain types of irreversible organ failure, and certain degrees of vision loss. The amendment to § 538.210 (a) creates a statutory cause of action for medical negligence, and (b) caps noneconomic damages for medical negligence claims as follows:
- $400,000.00 for personal injury;
- $700,000.00 for “catastrophic personal injury”; and
- $700,000.00 for wrongful death.
The caps are to be increased by 1.7% each year on the first day of January.
As with any new legislation, SB 239 has generated some uncertainty as to whether it will apply retrospectively to cap damages in cases where the negligence/injury occurred prior to the amendment’s effective date. Contact our office to discuss your medical negligence case.