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Mo. Supreme Court to consider constitutionality of medical malpractice caps

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – The Missouri Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday in a case challenging the constitutionality of the caps on medical malpractice awards in the state.

James Klotz and his wife, of St. Louis County, sued St. Anthony's Medical Center and two others after Klotz contracted a staph infection following heart surgery in 2004. The couple briefly withdrew the suit - and in that time, the General Assembly passed legislation that tightened the state's caps on non-economic, or pain and suffering, damages. The Klotzs received an award that was later reduced; the suit challenges both the reduction and the constitutionality of the caps themselves.

Caps violate the notion of responsibility that is a huge part of common law, said John Boyd, a lawyer with the Missouri AFL-CIO, which opposes the caps.

"That's been something which we brought over on the boat," he said. If you're going to harm someone through your negligence, you're responsible."

Boyd said the caps also create two classes of citizens. People who are injured by a negligent driver or a defective product have no caps on the amount of money they can seek for pain and suffering, he said, but those who are injured by the negligence of doctors do.

Attorneys for the Klotzs also argue that that the caps are an improper limit on the right to a jury trial. But Jeffrey Howell, the lawyer for the Missouri State Medical Society, said the legislature limits powers all the time.

"They pass laws that limit the executive branch departments all the time - the Department of Economic Development, Department of Insurance, Professional Registration," he said.

The state Supreme Court upheld caps on non-economic damages in 1992. They are currently set at $350,000. Howell said he is glad to have precedent on his side.

A summary of the case and briefs filed by the interested parties are available here


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