Thursday, April 21, 2011

Missouri Medical Malpractice Caps Protect Hospitals, Doctors and Harm Patients

Missouri Medical Malpractice awards for non-economic damages for all cases filed after August 2005 were capped at $350,000.00 total for all defendants. This law protects the financial interests of doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies at the expense of injured patients. Prior to this law passing Missouri already had medical malpractice caps at approximately $545,000.00 per defendant and the cap was adjusted for inflation. The new cap has no inflation adjustment.

The effect of this law adversely affects the elderly, i.e., retired, stay at home moms, children and any people who are not working because they generally do not have economic damages other than medical bills. It effectively deprives this group of people of a remedy when the malpractice results in death because there are no future medical expenses and the total recovery is limited to $350,000.00. While this might sound like a lot of money, when a lawyer looks at this as a business decision on whether to take the case the numbers do not add up.

Most lawyers in Missouri take medical malpractice cases on a 40% contingency fee basis and advance the expenses. The expenses to take a case to trial are usually are $40,000.00 on the low side and up to $100,000.00 depending on the number of experts and complexity of the case. As a medical malpractice lawyer you know that the defendant will rarely if ever settle a case for the maximum amount for which their client could be liable. That means if the case settles for example $300,000.00, you as a lawyer will have to spend $40,000.00 to $100,000.00 for a chance to earn a $120,000.00 fee. Since this law has passed lawyers have regularly turned down serious medical malpractice cases (many involving death) where there is limited economic damages. This means that a stay at home mom, an elderly parent or a child who is killed as the result of medical neglect is effectively denied a remedy. This law's constitutionality has not yet been challenged.