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Details of Medical Lawsuits Awards bill

April 22, 2004
By: Gaurav Ghose
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1304

JEFFERSON CITY - Supporters of the medical liability lawsuit awards bill say the legislation would prevent frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. Large awards are cited as a major reason for the rising medical malpractice insurance claims. And supporters say doctors are, in many cases, being forced to give up their medical practices totally or move to another state with lower malpractice insurance premium rates.

Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, told the Senate that Missouri was facing a crisis.

"In many parts of the state, you can no longer have access to OB coverage, you can no longer have coverage to neurological surgery," Scott said.

The medical malpractice liability awards bill includes the following:

* The lawsuit claim filed by the plaintiff should also be accompanied by an affidavit saying that he or she has obtained the written opinion of a legally qualified health care provider which states that the defendant failed to use care as a reasonably prudent provider would have under similar circumstances.

* To prevent lawsuits from moving to jurisdictions known for large awards, particularly St. Louis, the bill would stop lawyers from "venue shopping." In most instances, the case would have to be heard in the county where the alleged injury took place. Under current law, cases could be filed where the victim resides, where the defendant lives or where the injury first occurred.

* In any action against a health care provider for personal injury or death, the award limit for pain and suffering in non-emergency medical care liability lawsuit awards would be limited to $400,000.The cap is $200,000 for pain and suffering caused by malpractice in an emergency room. This, however, does not include punitive damages.

* The jury would determine the percentage of liability. It allows reduction of damage awards based on the degree of fault by the victim. Under that provision, a victim who was partially at fault could get less of an award than a victim who had not fault at all in suffering the damages.

* Courts shall not be allowed to admit doctors' statements and writings expressing sympathy or benevolence over pain or death as evidence of liability.