August 21, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/
-- The issue of tort reform in the area of medical malpractice has been in the news frequently in both Missouri and Kansas during the past year. Numerous newspaper articles have followed the actions of the highest courts of both states and the Missouri legislature as they have considered changes to legislation concerning medical negligence. These recent changes in malpractice
law will have an effect not only on health-care providers, but those who are injured due to the negligence of a health-care provider.
Medical malpractice background
When a doctor deviates from the standard of care while treating a patient and causes injury to that person, the patient may bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against the physician to recover damages. A recent LiveScience.com article cites a study naming failure to diagnose illness and medication errors as the most common reasons patients bring these suits. As many as 200,000 people die each year because of medical errors. However, medical malpractice lawsuits make up only a small percentage of personal liability cases.
Recap of recent changes to the law
Last summer, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that a 2005 law capping noneconomic damages was an unconstitutional infringement on citizens' right to trial by jury. Citizens of the state were able to sue for damages for medical malpractice under English common law before the state enacted its Constitution in 1820. The Bill of Rights contained in the Missouri Constitution provides that the "right of a trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate." The Court found that the statutory limit on damages took the issue away from the jury and thus struck down the medical malpractice cap.
In October 2012, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the state's $250,000 limit on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. In the suit heard by the Kansas court, a woman sued a doctor for removing the wrong ovary during surgery. A jury, which by law does not hear about the cap, awarded her $575,000 in noneconomic damages (damages for pain and suffering). The judge reduced the award to $250,000, based on the cap. The woman appealed to the highest court of the state, arguing that the cap violated her constitutional right to a jury trial, among other rights.
The Kansas court came to a different conclusion than the Missouri court, finding the cap acceptable. The majority opinion upholding the cap did call for an increase on the amount of the cap, which has remained unchanged for over two decades. However, the Kansas legislature did not increase the amount during its most recent session.
The 2013 legislative session in Missouri has seen proposals to reinstate a cap on damages. Shortly after the Missouri Supreme Court announced its decision, several legislators announced that tort reform would be one of the session's top priorities. A bill introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives would have substituted a statutory right to sue for health-care errors in place of the previous common-law right. In addition, the bill would again cap noneconomic damages at the previous amount, $350,000. The bill encountered serious debate by proponents and opponents, but did not gain the necessary amount of votes needed to pass.
Medical negligence can lead to serious injuries, including death. Because the area of medical malpractice is specialized, you should contact an experienced attorney if you have been injured by a physician's negligence. A personal injury attorney will be able to explain the nuances of the law and how to proceed if you plan to seek compensation.
Article provided by Goza & Honnold, L.L.C.
Visit us at www.gohonlaw.com