Medical Liability Reform Affects Everyone
The medical liability system in Missouri was thrown into turmoil and uncertainty on July 31, 2012, when the Missouri Supreme Court announced a ruling that invalidated existing caps on non-economic damages in liability cases.
Non-economic damages are the ‘pain and suffering’ part of a damage award. Patients also may sue to recover actual damages such as additional surgery, rehabilitation, etc.; there have been and will continue to be no limits on these – whatever is needed.
Missouri’s caps on non-economic damages had been in place since 2005. They provided a stable footing by which patients were ensured access to the legal system and physicians could still purchase malpractice insurance at affordable prices. These caps do not affect awards for actual cost of medical expenses and other damages.
Without caps, juries have awarded what some would consider exorbitant non-economic damage awards. This in turn causes uncertainty among those who are paying the non-economic damages—physicians and their malpractice insurers. Facing the potential of much higher damage awards, malpractice insurance costs can increase substantially. The costs can be severe enough to threaten the viability of a physician’s practice. As a result, physicians could close practices, retire or leave the state. Missouri faced such an environment before the previous non-economic damage limits were enacted.
That’s why protecting a fair and reasonable medical liability structure is important to everyone. Missourians, especially in underserved areas, cannot afford to lose access to care. The system should continue to ensure that patients can use the legal system when they feel they need it, but physicians can also maintain the financial viability of their practices.
The Missouri State Medical Association and the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society are supporting legislation to address this issue. Current bills before the 2014 Missouri Legislature are HB 1173 and SB 589.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society encourages you to contact your state representative and state senator and ask them to support these bills to restore reasonable caps on non-economic damages. And please ask your physicians to do the same.
Missouri State Medical Association
St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society Letter to the Editor