In July 2014, our Missouri Supreme Court changed our state law for the better. Missouri has always had a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages. With such a cap, regardless of what a jury decided, a Plaintiff could not recover more than $350,000 for non-economic damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Think about that – if a Plaintiff was severely injured in a way that changed her life forever, but was not a wage earner and or, there were little or no medical bills, the Plaintiff’s recovery would be capped at $350,000 in medical malpractice cases – regardless of the conduct of the defendant, regardless of the emotional loss suffered by Plaintiff, regardless of anything other than damages measurable by a calculator. It wasn’t right. In Watts v. Cox Medical Centers, the Missouri Supreme Court corrected this injustice by striking down the $350,000 non-economic damages cap. Unfortunately, this decision is silent on statutory claims, like wrongful death. It appears that in Missouri, if there was a death as a result of the medical malpractice, the recovery for non-economic damages will still be capped at $350,000.
Recently, on September 9, 2014, the Missouri Supreme Court issued another significant ruling that will affect not only my Missouri personal injury clients but others with legal claims in Missouri as well. In Lewellen v. Franklin, Plaintiff was a 77 year-old widow who was purchasing a car. She told two different salespeople that she could only afford a payment of $49 per month. Both of the salespeople assured Plaintiff that indeed, her monthly payment would only be $49 per month even thought they knew full well that her payment would actually be $387.49 per month. The car company told her they would pay the monthly difference, but they didn’t. When the case was brought to trial, the jury ruled in favor of the Plaintiff and further issued a $1 million punitive damages award against the car dealer. But the court in that case reduced the punitive damages award pursuant to Missouri Statute 510.265.
The United States is vastly different from other countries in that it allows a plaintiff and defendant’s jury of its peers to decide what is right and wrong and to decide what the punishment should be. It is a complete injustice when the jury does its job and the court or legislature then negate that decision. When that happens, our justice system doesn’t work. The Missouri Supreme Court has fixed that injustice with these two rulings. The Court held that the previously held law included constitutional violations of a Plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury.
We are making great strides in Missouri. For quite a while, there was a notion that tort reform, or as I call it, tort deform, was needed. Advocates pushed politicians and the public to believe that medical malpractice lawsuits were being filed all the time and that such lawsuits were driving away our good doctors. There has been no such proof. Advocates argued that personal injury victims were taking advantage of the system by filing “frivolous” lawsuits. There has been no such proof. I think that finally, the smoke and mirrors are starting to disappear and people are learning that the jury needs the freedom to decide these court rulings – not our judges and not our politicians.
Lindsay Rakers © 2014, Missouri serious injury attorney