Missouri ranks high among all states in the number of medical malpractice cases filed each year. There were 29 cases filed per 100,000 residents in the state in 2015, which placed Missouri 12th. Those cases resulted in a total payout of nearly $67 million to plaintiffs. Changes in the laws in the state have tried to bring these numbers down by making it more difficult to file lawsuits and recover damages.
Because the laws continue to change in favor of doctors and hospitals, patients need Missouri medical malpractice lawyers more than ever. These experts stay up to date on all the changes in state laws and are dedicated to helping victims of medical negligence get the justice they deserve. If you have been harmed by medical negligence, be sure to find the best malpractice lawyer to guide you through the legal steps.
Statute of Limitations
Missouri and other states are responsible for setting their own laws to guide malpractice cases. Missouri medical malpractice lawyers are well-versed in these laws, but for patients it is important to understand them at least on a basic level. Not understanding the laws at all can lead to missed opportunities for justice and for recovering damages.
One very important law is the statute of limitations, which puts a time limit on when victims of medical negligence can file lawsuits. In Missouri, patients have just two years from when the negligence occurred to make a case. The exception to this is when a patient has had a foreign object left in the body after surgery. In these cases the limit is two years from when the object is discovered, but it can be no more than ten years from when the mistake happened. Wrongful death cases must be filed within three years of the death. Minors under ten years old have until their twelfth birthday to file a lawsuit.
Affidavit of Merit
Another important law in the state is the requirement that an affidavit of merit be filed with any medical malpractice lawsuit. This is a signed statement from a qualified expert that testifies to the fact that the case has merit. The expert must state that in his or her opinion, negligence did occur and the standard of care was breached. To qualify, the expert must be a licensed medical professional practicing in the same field as the defendant in the case. This requirement for filing is supposed to reduce frivolous lawsuits, but opponents say that it places an unfair burden on victims, including those who have meritorious cases.
Damages Caps in Missouri
Many states have instituted a cap, or a limit, on the damages that a plaintiff can recover in a medical malpractice case. Most states put no limit on economic damages, which are directly related to actual costs incurred by a medical mistake. Caps are usually placed on non-economic damages, limiting how much a patient can recover for pain and suffering, disfigurement, and other types of harm upon which it is impossible to place an actual cost.
Missouri has been back and forth in recent years, first instituting a non-economic damages cap of just $350,000 in 2005. In 2012 the Missouri Supreme Court decided that the limit was unconstitutional because it violates the rights of patients to have a jury trial. This is a violation according to the common law that was in place when the state first adopted its constitution in 1820.
In 2015 the state again instituted a cap on non-economic damages that Missouri medical malpractice lawyers could seek for their clients. The limit was set at $400,000 for most cases and $700,000 for wrongful death cases. There are some exceptions to the cap and it is set to increase every year by 1.7 percent to account for inflation. The legislature and governor believe the caps will be found constitutional this time because they specified them as statutes not common law.
Critics of the caps say that limiting damages only harms patients who have already been harmed by medical errors and that it allows doctors to offend repeatedly and keep practicing. Supporters of the limits say that they keep malpractice insurance rates down as well as overall costs of healthcare in the state.
Medical Malpractice Cases in Missouri
There are numerous cases of lawsuits that have ended in favor of the victim, thanks to the efforts of Missouri medical malpractice lawyers. In one of these cases, which is being appealed by the defendants, the victim was awarded $14.2 million by a jury. The incident occurred at Mercy Hospital Washington in 2014 when the plaintiff was admitted with abdominal pains.
He was sent home but readmitted when his pain continued. He underwent emergency surgery. The man has claimed that the doctors at the hospital failed to treat him in a timely manner, that they did not get a surgical consultation, that they failed to keep him in the hospital for observation, and that they failed to diagnose him based on imaging scans. As a result he had to go through several surgeries and is now permanently disfigured and lives with pain.
In another case a jury awarded a woman $240,000 after a doctor removed a healthy kidney. An imaging scan of her kidney indicated that it may have been cancerous, but the doctor failed to follow it up with more testing and instead performed surgery to remove the kidney. The doctor did not inform the patient of other options. It turned out that the kidney was healthy and did not need to be removed. The woman now must live with just one kidney. The same doctor previously settled a case in which he removed the wrong kidney from a patient. That settlement was $1.7 million.
How to Find a Missouri Medical Malpractice Lawyer
If the worst happens and you or a loved one is suffering because of a medical mistake, you can rely on the expertise of a malpractice lawyer to help you seek justice. Finding the right lawyer to work with is an important step in the process, and should begin with the state bar association. This will help you find a lawyer licensed in the state and in good standing. Make sure you choose someone who specifically practices malpractice law, as this kind of law requires specialized expertise.
When you do find the lawyer that you feel comfortable working with and that you know will be on your side fighting for you, be sure to share all your medical records and all necessary information about the negligence. When you have the right lawyer and you provide all information, you both have the best chance of winning justice, holding the responsible people accountable, and recovering needed compensation.
- http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/medical-liability-medical-malpractice-laws.aspx - AL