Missouri Court Issues Ruling in Medical Malpractice Case

March 25, 2010

Two days ago, the Missouri Supreme Court made a ruling that narrowed the scope of a 2005 state law that limits the amount of money that may be awarded in medical malpractice cases has slightly narrowed the scope of a 2005 state law limiting how much money can be awarded to people in medical malpractice cases, however, it’s only a partial victory. While the ruling on March 23 did give a victory to people who were injured prior to 2005, it did not address the larger issue of whether or not the lawsuit limits violate other constitutional rights.

The originaly 2005 “tort reform” law was a priority for then-Governor Matt Blunt and his largely Republican-led state legislature, who said limiting payouts would also limit liability insurance premiums for doctors, helping to ensure that healthcare in Missouri remained available and affordable. One of that law’s main provisions reduced the cap for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering to a flat $350,000 per medical malpractice lawsuit. That limit became effective for any suit filed after August 28, 2005, and represented a significant decrease over the previous limit of $579,000, which had been adjusted for inflation each year, and was assumed to apply to multiple parties in a given lawsuit.

The case at the center of the issue was that of James and Mary Klotz of St. Louis. In 2006, they filed a lawsuit alleging that James Klotz had contracted a staph infection which subsequently led to additional health problems, during the implantation of a pacemaker in March, 2004. At the time, a jury awarded James more than $2 million, and also awarded more than $500,000 to Mary, with more than half of their combined total comprised of non-economic damages. However, a trial judge later reduced James’ non-economic damages to the the 2005-imposed cap, and eliminated them completely from monies awarded to Mary, because the same law required that they be counted under her husband’s total.

The Missouri Supreme Court sad the state’s constitution includes a prohibition on retroactive laws, which means the Klotzes -and anyone else whose injuries occurred before the 2005 law took effect – cannot be held to those caps. That decision means that the Klotzes will receive hundreds of thousands more dollars.

In an interview with the Associated Press, James Klotz said, “I’m glad I won, but I’m in pain all the time. I’d gladly give up all the money just to have my whole life back together.”