Missouri Supreme Court Overturns Damage Caps in Birth Injury Cases

On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the cap on non-economic damages that can be awarded to plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases. This opinion reverses a 20-year-old Supreme Court decision that upheld the caps in a case where they were previously challenged.

The case at issue is a medical malpractice suit filed in state court out of Green County, MO. The cause of action originated at Cox Medical Center, a Springfield, MO area hospital. The Plaintiff, Deborah Watts, and her minor-child filed the birth injury lawsuit after her son was born with severe brain damage due to lack of oxygen prior to and during birth, resulting in irreversible complications including cerebral palsy.

After the case went to trial, and Ms. Watts and her son won, the jury awarded Ms. Watts $3.37 million for past and future medical damages. In addition, they awarded the family $1.45 million for the pain and suffering that they endured and continue to endure as a result of the medical negligence of Cox Medical Center.

Under previous Missouri law, these damages would be capped and reduced to $350,000.

Ms. Watts retained a specialist from Washington, DC in constitutional law, and they challenged the award reduction on the grounds that cap was unconstitutional.

The Missouri Supreme Court deliberated, and on a 4-3 decision, ruled that non-economic damage caps were a violation of the constitutional right to trial by jury. They further determined that the specific details of each case should be the basis by which the court examines a case when determining non-economic damages, instead of a blanket cap on pain, suffering, and other non-economic damages.

See the full text of the Supreme Court Opinion here.