Missouri, like Florida, has caps on recovery for pain and suffering in a medical malpractice case. In essence, the law says that no matter what a jury thinks is fair for a victim of medical malpractice, the Legislature will decide what the maximum award will be. Recently, the Missouri Supreme Court decided that these caps are unconstitutional. You can read about the decision here
Our justice system is based upon a jury of our peers making fair decisions after hearing all of the evidence. The idea of “caps” on damages completely deprives the jury of its right to make decisions and, instead, allows government officials to decide outcomes in our courtrooms.
Victims of medical malpractice and their lawyers have been fighting medical malpractice caps throughout the country in an effort to return the decision of damages to the jury. Presently, in Florida, we are awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court where a victim of medical malpractice is challenging the caps on pain and suffering damages. All of us who represent these victims are hopeful that the court here in Florida will do what has just been done in Missouri and strike down the caps as unconstitutional.
Just to illustrate the point as to why these caps in Florida are so grossly unfair, you need to examine them from the perspective of a victim. Ask yourself, what is the monetary value of pain and suffering if you are left paralyzed from the neck down because of a medical error? What is the value of your pain and suffering if you lose arms or legs because of a medical error? What is the value of your pain and suffering is you or your child suffer irreversible brain damage because of a medical error? Certainly, a cap of $750,000 in pain and suffering against a doctor and a cap of $1.5 in pain and suffering against a hospital seems grossly inequitable given the life-altering nature of these types of injuries. Still, no matter what a jury awards a victim with these injuries, the caps require the trial judge to reduce the verdict down to these damage caps.
Missouri has determined these caps are unconstitutional and, already, the Legislature is discussing an amendment to the State Constitution in order to negate the decision of the Court. An amendment to the Constitution that restricts our access to the Courts? Is that really the answer? If a Court determines that these caps violate the Constitution, then one must ask why a State Legislature still be trying to enact these laws. Clearly, victims rights are far less important to these Legislators than the special interest lobbyists that pour money into tort reform campaigns.
The bottom line is that a jury is in place for a reason. They make the tough decisions based upon the evidence presented. A doctor and a hospital have a fair opportunity to explain to a jury why a damage award should be lower, and if they fail in that argument, a jury’s decision should be respected. Caps on damages send a message that we do not trust our juries to make the correct decisions. Simply put, that message is wrong. As a lawyer that represents victims who suffer catastrophic and life changing injuries, I hope to see these caps on damages removed from each state’s laws.