Do Missouri residents need tort reform again? Under Missouri law, a “tort” is not a rich, multi-layer cake. It is a type of civil case that includes most personal injury claims. In 2015, Governor Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 239 into law. This reinstated medical malpractice caps in Missouri medical malpractice cases. In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court declared the caps (instituted in a 2005 tort reform bill) were unconstitutional in all medical malpractice cases, except those for wrongful death, on the grounds that the caps violated a plaintiff’s constitutional right to trial by jury for common law causes of action. The law provides that medical malpractice lawsuits are now statutory causes of action rather than common law causes of action. Proponents of the law believe that this modification will allow the law to survive any court challenges to its constitutionality.
Current Caps on Damages as a Result of Missouri Tort Reform
Under the law, noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, will be capped at $400,000 in most medical malpractice cases. Measurable economic damages, such as medical costs resulting from the injury and lost wages, continue to remain uncapped. For “catastrophic” cases, defined in the law as injuries which may include paralysis, loss of vision, loss of tow or more limbs and brain injury, the cap would be $700,000. The bill also doubles the existing cap in wrongful death cases from $350,000 to $700,000. The new law will also include a 1.7% annual increase in the caps. Damages caps do not apply to other types of personal injury cases such as car accidents, except for certain awards of punitive damages (which are rarely awarded anyway).
Missouri Tort Reform Again?
The Missouri Legislature is currently seeking to institute additional tort reform. They argue that it is necessary because juries are “allegedly” running amok by awarding damages to those injured or killed by the negligence of another. The American Tort Reform Association (“ATRA”), a group funded by large tobacco, pharmaceutical, insurance, energy and chemical corporations, labeled Missouri a “judicial hellhole”. Their reason? Missouri juries held Johnson & Johnson accountable for continuing to sell talcum powder despite dozens of published medical and scientific studies, as well as decades of mounting evidence highlighting links between genital application of talcum powder by women and ovarian cancer. There’s no actual methodology behind the ATRA’s claims. Indeed, the ATRA relies upon editorial pieces and other sources that amount to little more than whining by companies hauled into court for hurting or killing people. Obviously, big business has a direct financial stake in restricting lawsuits.
Governor Eric Greitens echoed the ATRA in his first State of the State address. As a result, the legislature is currently considering a bill to limit the collateral source rule and to tighten rules on expert witnesses.
Why Missouri Doesn’t Need Tort Reform Again
Our civil justice system gives people a fair chance to receive justice through the legal system when injured due to the negligence or wrongful acts of others. Having tort reform again will be bad for those injured individuals. Many people have negative opinions of tort cases and personal injury attorneys, until they themselves are injured and need help. These individuals have bought into the myths promoted by big business, insurance companies and medical providers. You’ve heard them:
– Personal injury suits drive up insurance costs;
– Tort claims are brought by greedy people and their greedy lawyers;
– Personal injury suits drive up the costs of goods and products;
– Medical malpractice suits will keep our communities from having access to good medical care.
These myths fail to consider the people seriously injured by drunk drivers; people harmed by neglectful care in a nursing home; people with arms amputated at work due to the company removing safety equipment; a child who will have life long medical needs because someone didn’t report their suspicions of child abuse.
Unfortunately, the small handful of “frivolous” or unjust cases are the ones in the news. The media doesn’t talk about the thousands of cases with merit. Without tort cases, big business would still be producing cars with gas tanks that explode, or SUV’s that roll over easily. Medical providers would not have policies and procedures in place to try and prevent operating on the wrong body part. Tort cases help hold people responsible for their actions.
Having tort reform again will be bad for Missouri. Please contact your state representative and state senator and ask them to say no to more tort reform.