On March 27, 2012, behind these doors, the Missouri Supreme Court heard oral argument on a case involving one of the worst laws foisted upon Missouri citizens by its own representatives in years. Seven years ago, the Missouri legislature was faced with a choice: protect its citizens from negligent and/or corrupt health care corporations and nursing home companies, or implement a law that rewards those that commit negligent acts. Sadly, the legislature chose power and profit over citizens.
On August 28, 2005 the “tort form” law became effective in Missouri. This law drastically limited the monetary recovery Missouri citizens can receive after suffering catastrophic injuries as a result of nursing home abuse or medical negligence by imposing a hard “cap” on non-economic damages that a jury could award to an individual who files a lawsuit over injuries suffered as a result of negligence, regardless of the severity of the damages suffered. Without hearing the facts of a single case, the legislature imposed its will on juries acros the state. That law has now been challenged in the Missouri Supreme Court.
Deborah Watts brought a medical malpractice case against Cox Medical Centers on behalf of her infant son for injuries he suffered at his birth. After hearing evidence from all parties, the jury hearing her case awarded her non-economic damages of $1.45 million. As a direct result of the “tort reform” law implemented by the 2005 legislature, the trial court reduced the jury award to $350,000, pursuant to section 538.210 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri. For the future damages, the trial court set up a series of installment payments rather than requiring defendants to pay that amount in a lump sum. Watts appealed this decision.
Among several different arguments against the legislation, Watts argues that the cap for non-economic damages violates the constitutional right to trial by jury since it takes away much of the decision making authority bestowed to the jury. Watts also asserts that section 538.210 was a violation of the separation of powers since the legislature invaded the traditional judiciary function of making a determination, on a case-by-case basis, whether a jury’s damages award is excessive, inadequate or against the weight of the evidence. In arguing that the legislature acted blindly by taking into account no facts of any specific case, she asserts that the arbitrary cap is nothing more than a “legislative remittitur” to a supposed problem.
The Missouri Supreme Court can issue their ruling as early as May or as late as July 3. Regardless of their decision, it will have profound ramifications across our state. To listen to the oral arguments before the Missouri Supreme Court on this case, go here.
David Terry is a St. Louis personal injury lawyer. He has represented physicians and hospitals as well as individuals who have been injured by the negligence acts of others. He is well known throughout the United States as a speaker and regularly speaks on issues involving nursing home negligence and motor vehicle accidents. For a free consultation, feel free to call the Terry Law Firm at 1-888-317-2525.