Attorneys for a couple involved in a medical malpractice lawsuit this morning asked the Missouri Supreme Court to overturn the statutory limits on punitive damages.
It's the first case challenging Missouri TMs 2005 tort reform law to reach the state's highest court.
In July of 2008, a jury found a St. Louis doctor and his hospital guilty of malpractice for a staph infection suffered by a heart patient during surgery. Jurors awarded James Klotz and his wife almost a million dollars in non-economic, or punitive, damages.
"The trial court reduced James Klotz's non-economic damages by $275,000, Klotz's Attorney Louis Borgrad said. And completely eliminated Mary Klotz's recovery for loss of consortium.
That's because the tort law reforms approved by lawmakers four years ago set a flat $350,000 cap for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
"This legislation was simply our legislature's attempt to find a way to make the provision of health care more affordable and more accessible for all Missourians, Doctor's Attorney Tad Eckenrode said.
But did lawmakers trample individual rights to get malpractice insurance rates down.
"The Klotz's have raised eight separate constitutional challenges to this ruling, Borgrad said.
Among them that the trial court inappropriately applied the new caps retrospectively.
"The state of Missouri has a bridge right across the Missouri River, Missouri Chief Justice Judge William Ray Price said. Should that bridge fall, as it did in Minnesota, fifty people in their cars perish, could the state the next day pass a statute saying 'we're going to cap their damages at a hundred dollars, because we don't want to pay them?
"No, I don't believe they could, your honor. Eckenrode said.
"Why not, Price said. What's the difference between that and what happened here?
Another intriguing question is whether trial judges should be required to instruct juries in advance about the caps on non-economic damages, rather than lower them later.
The advocates of those caps say telling juries about them simply invite jurors to inflate other damage awards to make up the difference