On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a decision holding that the previous cap of $350,000 on non-economic damages including those for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases violates the right to a trial by jury. The Court explained that this cap interferes with the “jury’s constitutionally protected purpose” to determine the amount of damages experienced by an injured person. In this case, a young boy, Naython Watts, was born with catastrophic brain injuries after his mother allegedly did not receive appropriate care from the doctors and hospital involved, which the jury determined to be medical negligence. The jury awarded the five year old boy and his mother as his representative $1.45 million in non-economic damages or pain and suffering. This award was then reduced to $350,000 due to a law passed in 2005 which capped pain and suffering damages for any medical malpractice law suit, regardless of the injury. Chief Justice Teitelman explained that the statute which imposes the cap on medical malpractice damages violates the Missouri Constitution’s right to a trial by jury.
What is encouraging about this decision is the Missouri Court’s support of the Constitution, which created a court system with a trial by a jury of our fellow citizens in order to protect the most vulnerable people in our society: not corporations or large hospitals, but victims facing daunting challenges like Naython Watts and his parents who will care for him for the rest of his life.
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