Medical tort reform would cap 'pain and suffering' damages at $350,000

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | 8:10 p.m. CST; updated 9:49 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Several dozen physicians and nurses were at the Capitol on Wednesday for 'White Coats Day,' a day in which those professionals lobby their elected representatives about legislation possibly affecting the way they deliver service(s). Wednesday's efforts revolved around tort reform.

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House of Representatives passed medical tort reform Wednesday that would cap "pain and suffering" damages recovered in court at $350,000. The vote was 94-61.

Medical tort reform is an important issue to medical professionals, who aren't always successful in providing services, said Ravi Johar, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Clinic Women's Health in Hazelwood near St. Louis.


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He also disagreed with legal pain and suffering claims because the jury can sometimes be swayed by emotion.

Medical liability insurance is used to compensate doctors who are sued for malpractice and maloccurrence. But if their insurance policy reaches its coverage limit during a legal battle, doctors are stuck with the bill. 

Malpractice is when a doctor does something incorrectly. Maloccurrence is when something goes wrong unexpectedly.

In 2005, Missouri capped medical damages at $350,000, but the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the law in 2012, according to the Associated Press. The court ruled that the law violated a person's right to a jury trial, which was how medical malpractice cases were determined.

House Bill 1173, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, would take medical malpractice and maloccurrence out of the courts by putting a statutory cap on recoverable damages.

Most suits are thrown out of court, Johar said. However, it still costs money to evaluate the validity of those claims.

In 2005, providers spent $80 million defending more than 3,000 claims, according to Show-Me Tort Reform, a group lobbying on behalf of the doctors.

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, however, worried about unintended consequences of the bill, particularly for senior citizens. 

The bill doesn't change economic damages, which is calculated based on, among other things, medical bills and lost earnings from work.

To this extent, Webber wondered how seniors would be able to recoup economic damages if they were retired.

Lawyers' fees from malpractice suits also stuck in doctors' craws. Several doctors felt that lawyers were inflating noneconomic damages because they received a fairly large cut of the money.

Webber, who is a lawyer, disagreed, saying that "at least two-thirds" of money from suits and settlements ended up in their clients' hands.

Webber also expressed concern that Burlison's legislation would let insurance companies get between doctors and their patients. If doctors could only be sued a certain amount of money, he said, then insurance companies might discourage doctors from recommending medical tests.

In general, representatives in favor of the bill said on the House floor Wednesday that malpractice claims were driving doctors from the state. Drawing attention to medical tort reform, they said that, though having insurance is important to seeking treatment, having a doctor is even more so.

Having talked to around 20 doctors, Webber said two of the doctors thought tort reform was the most pressing medical issue today. The other 18 said it was Medicaid expansion.

Although the bill passed the House, it has yet to pass the Senate.

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Tracy Greever-Rice March 6, 2014 | 11:10 a.m.

I would sure like to see the evidence of doctors 'driven from the state'...

I'm waiting.

Still waiting.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 6, 2014 | 2:47 p.m.

So Webber found and talked to 20 lawyers. That must have been a truly herculean undertaking - it's rare to encounter lawyers these days.

Assuming that physicians ARE leaving Missouri, and I also need to be convinced that they are, it might be useful to know to what state or states they're relocating.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 6, 2014 | 2:57 p.m.


I have no first hand knowledge for current trends, but I did find these. They are older and only show that litigation concern was present then as it is today. I don't think the problem has changed much. Maybe the ACA has made things equally bad across the US so there is little incentive to leave anymore. I dunno.

For Missouri in the next one, see page 8. However, the blurbs on other states are interesting:

I did chuckle at this, from the article: "Several doctors felt that lawyers were inflating noneconomic damages because they received a fairly large cut of the money. Webber, who is a lawyer, disagreed, saying that "at least two-thirds" of money from suits and settlements ended up in their clients' hands.

Me: At least 2/3rds? Wow, I didn't know 1/3rd was considered so damned small.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 6, 2014 | 3:21 p.m.

Ellis: I found one article that said neurologists from west MO were migrating to east KS. However, the article was from a few years ago, plus I didn't include it in my post to Tracy because I judged the article as "possible internet junk". That means the source was unfamiliar to me and included verbiage of the type I deem suspicious and agenda-driven.

I guess I should have included it with my comments so you folks could judge for yourself. For now, I've lost it and don't want to hunt for it again.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 6, 2014 | 10:05 p.m.


Another problem comes from the locations cited. One could relocate from "western Missouri" to "eastern Kansas" and never move out of the metro Kansas City area!

Bear mind that some of the most desirable commercial and residential properties in metro Kansas City are located in Johnson County, Kansas. It's impressive what's been built there in the last few decades.

If someone (medical or other) made the switch I'm talking about they would certainly change states, but the reason could be nothing other than desiring newer office facilities and/or being closer to more of their patients.

If you can't find something in Johnson County, Kansas, you probably didn't need it.

PS: There is less and less "country" between metro Kansas City and Lawrence (on super highway K-10).

(Report Comment)

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