The Missouri House gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill to reinstate limits on how much juries can award in noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases against health care providers.
Supporters said the limits, approved 101-53, are needed to make sure doctors do not leave the state because of increasing insurance costs. Bill sponsor Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said without caps the state would have fewer specialists and that higher insurance costs for doctors would inevitably be passed on to patients.
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The bill caps noneconomic damages, including pain and suffering, at $350,000. The cap would not limit economic damages such as lost wages or medical bills resulting from the wrongdoing.
The state previously had caps that were overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2012. The bill creates a statutory cause of action for medical malpractice cases, which Burlison said would keep the new cap in line with the court's ruling.
Burlison said more lawsuits, especially frivolous ones, would be filed without caps.
"When there's no limit on what the jury could award you, it's like the lottery system," Burlison said, adding that more people would file lawsuits in hopes of getting a big payout.
Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, said if that argument was correct then there would have been a spike in the number of lawsuits after the August 2012 Supreme Court decision. However, there was not an increase in filed lawsuits, according to the latest report from Missouri's Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration, which includes data through 2013.
Burlison said it may take more time for the number and size of awards to begin to increase and the effects to be felt in the medical malpractice insurance market.
Opponents said the bill harms people who have been hurt by negligent doctors. Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, said the bill places a limit on the value of an individual's life and that she trusted juries to make the right decision in awarding damages.
"I believe in the sanctity of human life," Solon said. "I believe you cannot place a price tag on the life of anyone."
The House must give final approval to the measure before it goes to the Senate.
The bill is HB 118.
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