Missouri Supreme Court Ruling Strikes Blow to Tort Reform
August 1, 2012
Yesterday, the Missouri Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, struck down a 2005 state law capping non-economic damages at $350,000 in medical malpractice cases as infringing on “the jury’s constitutionally protected purpose of determining the amount of damages sustained by an injured party” and therefore violating the right to trial by jury.
The ruling represents a major blow to the state’s tort reform advocates. Moving forward, newly invigorated trial lawyers will seek greater damages for their clients, dramatically increasing medical malpractice premiums for doctors, who will have to shift the cost burden off to patients. Former Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, in an interview with the Associated Press, said it best: ”It’s devastating news, quite frankly, for health-care providers and patients and job-creators in the state.”
In response to the verdict, Tim Dollar [insert pun here], President of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, told the Associated Press: “Everyone who believes in the constitution should be thrilled with this decision today.”
Well, we’re not. But proponents for “merit” selection in judicial elections surely are. Over at the National Review’s “Bench Memos,” Carrie Severino finds the hands of the legal aristocracy all over this ruling. “The trial bar’s influence appeared evident in the majority opinion’s reasoning,” says Carrie.
“The dissent explained: ‘[The decision overrules] more than 20 years of [Missouri] precedent that authoritatively decided this issue. The majority opinion reflects a wholesale departure from the unequivocal law of this state and leaps into a new era of law.’”