House passes legislation to protect health care access and keep doctors in our state; Senate considers even broader tort reforms

The capitol was full of white-coated Missouri doctors who came to encourage lawmakers to support legislation that would protect access to health care and keep doctors in our state.  Lawmakers showed their support, by taking action on a priority of the medical community: reinstating non-economic damage caps on medical malpractice claims.

On Wednesday, the Missouri House gave final approval to House Bill 1173, legislation that creates a statutory cause of action for medical malpractice and reinstitutes the 2005 caps on non-economic damages abrogated by the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in Watts.   The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Springfield, is supported by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“We support lawmakers’ decision to protect health care access and keep doctors in our state by reinstating these reasonable caps,” said Missouri Chamber President and CEO Dan Mehan.  “We are also encouraged to see an appetite for common-sense tort reform by House leadership.”

The 2005 caps were part of a bi-partisan effort to bring stability to Missouri’s out-of-control tort system. If reasonable caps are not reinstated Missouri will again face the exact health care crisis remedied by the 2005 reforms.

Rep. Burlison’s bill would limit non-economic damage caps in medical malpractice cases to $350,000.  Non-economic damages are classified as intangible harm, such as emotional distress.  The caps would not keep a plaintiff from being compensated fully for hard costs, such as medical bills and loss of future earnings.

“From an employer standpoint, higher liability costs on health care providers means higher insurance premiums to cover employees.  Since the majority of private health care is purchased by employers, it makes sense that we would support this measure,” Mehan said.

Rep. Stanley Cox, a long-time proponent of common-sense litigation controls, shared this sentiment as he discussed the bill during debate.

“They (doctors) make decisions based on economics and if you can go 80 miles west of Sedalia and practice in a more hospitable environment, you might make that decision,” Cox said.

The Missouri Senate also held debate on medical malpractice cap legislation sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown, a Republican from Rolla.  Senate Bill 589 not only would reinstate non-economic medical malpractice caps, it would provide non-economic damage caps for all tort actions.  Another Missouri Chamber priority within SB 589 would reform joint and several liability, so that a defendant would liable for the amount of damages in direct proportion to the defendant’s percentage of fault.  Sen. Scott Sifton, an opponent of the legislation, was credited with slowing down the debate of SB 589, and the legislation was laid over without a vote.  Sen. Sifton is a Democrat from Afton.

For more information on litigation legislation, contact Jay Atkins, Missouri Chamber general counsel and director of legislative affairs, at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

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