WHAT OTHER SAY: Malpractice lawsuits need award restrictions

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | 5:42 p.m. CDT

Rural Missouri, even more than our big cities, needs reasonable limits on the amount of money people can receive from medical malpractice claims.

To understand this is to place individual suits for damages in perspective. No limits on damage awards eventually will negatively affect everyone who needs reasonably priced health care and access to care, including such in-demand services as obstetrics and other medical specialties.

And let's face it, these problems will be magnified in already underserved rural areas that scrape to find and retain physicians and other medical professionals.

Those are facts. Our opinion tracks closely with these realities.

First, anyone injured at the hands of a medical professional should expect to get every dime due them for economic damages suffered. Among these entirely understandable and quantifiable claims are ones for the costs of past and future medical care, lost wages and expected losses of future earnings.

Second, a remedy also is needed for those persons who can establish they have suffered non-economic damages such as emotional distress or pain and suffering. But these hard-to-quantify losses require reasonable limits so as not to allow wildly erratic awards that on their face can seem both excessive and unfair.

In 2005, Missouri passed a successful reform law. In the seven years that followed, lawsuits against physicians dropped almost 58 percent, the state added nearly 1,000 doctors and lawsuit insurance premiums fell $27 million, according to the Missouri State Medical Association.

That law, with a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages and no cap on economic damages, worked to drive down the cost of medicine and to encourage doctors to practice in our state — including in rural areas.

Our state Supreme Court two years ago struck down the previous cap on damages, but new legislation before the General Assembly seeks to reinstate the limits. We support this proposal because it preserves access to justice for injured patients while also preserving access to medical care.

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