Pictured is Governor Blunt ceremoniously signing the tort reform legislation at Joplin's Freeman Health Center in front of lawmakers and representatives of the medical profession. In back of them on the wall is an architectural rendering of the hospital's massive expansion program.
The governor officially signed the legislation, that becomes effective August 28, 2005, yesterday in Jefferson City. (Photo by Vince Rosati)
Missouri Governor Matt Blunt yesterday signed into law sweeping litigation and medical malpractice reforms designed by the law's supporters to address a medical care crisis in the state. The new law sponsored by Representative Richard Byrd (R-94) and co-sponsorsed by Speaker of the House Rod Jetton (R-156) will both improve Missourians' access to health care and improve the state's business climate, according to a statement made by the governor.
The law to many reveals that fostering business interests is the main focus of its supporters at the expense of the public welfare. Regarding medical malpractice reform, opponents believe that the legislation only benefits doctors and the hospitals that self-insure. Nothing in the law addresses the ritual incompetence demonstrated by some members of the medical profession, and nothing insures that there will not be less accountability due to the protection that the law provides.
Being able to get a jury of one's peers takes on greater significance now that venue shopping, or seeking judgments in an urban area more sympathetic to one's cause, or more prone to awarding higher sums, basically has been eliminated. The law provides that where the plaintifff was injured in Missouri, actions only may be brought in the county where the action occurred or in the county were the plaintiff was injured.
Missouri's new law limits an award for non-economic damages specifically in medical liability cases to $350,000, irrespective of the number of defendants with a new provision that there be no inflation adjustment on the cap. However, there apparently is no language adjustment for product liability cases which fall on the docket to a much lesser degree in Missouri than do cases associated with medical mal-practice.
A positive aspect of the law, however, seems to be the protection given to physicians who volunteer their services, although we would like to have seen some language also protecting ambulance workers or good samaritans who aid a victim when no other professional help is available. The law specifies only that physicians who provide medical treatment to patients in city, county or non-profit health clinics that provide free health care service are not liable for civil damanges for acts or omission unless the damages were caused by gross negligence or by willful or wanton acts or omissions of the physicians.
Of interest is the following statement issued by Greg Steinhoff, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development:
Today, Missouri has taken a major step to balance our legal system and enhance our state’s ability to keep the businesses we have and attract new businesses to the state. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Matt Blunt and the hard work of the Legislature, the passage of this important litigation reform legislation will protect Missouri’s employers and entrepreneurs from unfair lawsuits. The legislation also means that employers and entrepreneurs who are considering Missouri as a potential business location will no longer fear Missouri’s litigation environment but instead embrace our state as a good place to do business.