States fear courts will overturn malpractice caps

With Missouri Supreme Court's recent decision rejecting malpractice damages caps, providers in other states are wondering what the decision could mean for them.

A jury awarded Deborah Watts $1.5 million in noneconomic damages and $3.4 million for future medical expenses after filing suit against Lester E. Cox Medical Centers, part of CoxHealth, and its physicians, alleging their negligence led to her son's disabilities at birth, American Medical News reported. However, the court reduced the noneconomic damages from $1.5 million to the state's limit of $350,000.

But the Missouri Supreme Court last month voted 4-3 to strike down the $350,000 cap on pain-and-suffering damages.

"It's extremely disappointing," Tim Holloway, executive vice president of the Missouri State Medical Association, told American Medical News. "We feel like the court ignored years and years of precedent. [The ruling] portends another lawsuit crisis."

Other states, including Louisiana, Indiana, Kansas and Mississippi, also are playing out one of the hottest hot-button issues in courts, which will decide whether malpractice caps are legal. Some providers worry that the Missouri Supreme Court decision could spill into other states.

"We're alarmed that this is going to bring back, if you will, the bad old days," said Rick Royer, president of healthcare consulting firm Primaris and a contract specialist for local physicians group Missouri Medical Affiliates, told the Columbia Tribune.

Some physicians have avoided high-risk specialties because of malpractice insurance premiums.

When Missouri law lowered the cap in 2004, premiums dropped by 28 percent, but with the decision that calls malpractice caps unconstitutional, premiums could once again rise, the newspaper noted.

For more information:
- read the amednews article
- see the Missouri decision (.pdf)
- here's the Columbia Daily Tribune article

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