On July 31, 2012 the Supreme Courts ruling in Watts v. Cox came down holding that Missouri's current non-economic damage caps of $350,000 for medical malpractice cases are unconstitutional. Read full Medical Malpractice Damage Caps Decision. However, this probably only applies to negligence cases and not wrongful death cases, as the Missouri Supreme Court already upheld the non-economic damage caps for wrongful death cases in a recent ruling Sanders v. Ahmed. Missouri wrongful death cases are causes of action created by statute (i.e. the legislature or congress) therefore, the legislature can arguably cap damages because they created the cause of action. If the Plaintiff survives the medical negligence (i.e. not a Missouri wrongful death case), then the action is a common law action and the legislature's non-economic damage caps are an unconstitutional limitation and interference of a trial by jury and the constitutional guarantee that the facts are determined by a jury, and yes, the amount of damages suffered by the victim is a fact, so it must be determined by the jury. For more detail on the right to trial by jury arguments see Personal Injury Lawyers File a Motion to Strike.
Why is this so important? It allows for a more fair and just system for victims of healthcare malpractice to pursue justice. For example, we handled a case for a woman who suffered partial paraplegia as a result of a radiologist negligently injecting steroid material onto her spinal cord causing severe neurological damage. See Spinal Cord Injury & Negligent Injection. This woman suffered about 6 weeks of almost total paralysis from the neck down and then went through years of painful recovery. To this day she still has several days a week when she cannot get out of bed, additionally, she will never walk correctly again do to the permanent neurological damage. She was about 40 years old when the medical negligence occurred, and now she must live the rest of her life as a cripple. Does $350,000, the cap that was recently struck down, sound like fair compensation for the physical and emotional harms and losses she will suffer for the rest of her life?
Despite this recent ruling, Missouri wrongful death cases resulting form medical malpractice still most likely have a non-economic damage cap of $350,000. This was affirmed a few month ago by the Supreme Court in the Sanders case. So, if someone with no wage income (retirees and the elderly) die as the result of medical malpractice and pass without accumulating large amount of medical bills, the best the family can ever recover from the at fault doctor or healthcare provider is still $350,000, for the loss of a loved one. $350,000 is set in stone and is not adjusted for inflation.