JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate Judiciary Committee was warned Monday, Feb. 4, that physicans will leave the state if a cap on medical malpractice payouts is not implemented, leading to less quality care within the state.The Missouri Constitution follows English common law from 1607 on issues not covered by Missouri law. Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, has proposed a bill that would exclude this specific issue from those covered by English common law Brown's bill would place a cap of $350,000 for noneconomic damages, defined as pain and suffering, emotional damage and companionship. The cap on non-economic damages was ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court because English common law prohibits caps. Brown said his bill would solve this problem because it would exempt this issue. He also said he believes his bill will prevent Missouri from losing physicians to other states that do have caps.
"We were losing a lot of good physicians in Missouri," Brown said. "We were losing a lot of specialty practices because the risk of a neurosurgeon or someone who delivers babies is much greater than a general practitioner and therefore those folks were choosing not to come to Missouri. Once we put the caps on we grew by 1,000 physicians in a very short period of time."
Ken Vuylsteke, vice president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, said he opposed the cap. Vuylsteke said he represented the future medical malpractice victims of Missouri.
"It would allow caps to be introduced on cases where people have been crippled for life, blinded, they are brain damaged and have to live with that for the rest of their lives," Vuylsteke said.
Dr. John Spears, a practicing orthopedic spine surgeon and Director of the Missouri Spine Institute, said he believes the cap will absolutely affect the choice of specialty physicians to stay in the state or not.
"There's no question that when I made the choice to move to Missouri, that evaluating what the potential tort reform and caps on noneconomic damages would be very significantly affected my decision to move to Missouri," Spears said.
Missouri Radiology Society President, Dr. Sidney Belshe said he believes we have a home field advantage in terms of colleges and universities in our state, but if we do not have a favorable environment for physicians to practice in than we will lose new and more seasoned physicians.
Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Greene County, proposed a similar bill that would change the standard of evidence in medical malpractice cases. Dixon's bill would change the standard of evidence from preponderance to clear and convincing. This change would make it more difficult for plaintiffs to receive noneconomic damage payouts.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said he believes that just because the standard is a little tighter doesn't mean that justice won't be done.
Both bills were met with little opposition.