In many states, including Massachusetts, there are medical malpractice laws, which sometimes include caps for noneconomic damages. Noneconomic damages involve such items as compensation for harm and suffering and lost enjoyment, among other things. These damages do not include damages for lost wages, lost future income or medical costs. Noneconomic damages are not easily quantified in a dollar amount. Caps range anywhere from $250,000 to $750,000 depending on the state. The constitutionality of these caps has been debated heavily for many years.
In 2011, Dr. Robert Ferrara, a cardiologist from the St. Louis area, was treating Shannon Dodson. Dr. Ferrara performed a heart test, which blocked blood flow to Dodson’s heart and required emergency surgery. Dodson died the day of surgery. At trial, a jury awarded Dodson’s family $9 million in noneconomic damages; however, the court reduced the amount to $350,000 based on the cap specified by Missouri state law.
Last month, Dodson’s lawyer, Patrick Hagerty, argued to the Missouri Supreme Court that the state law limiting how much money the family could receive for noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice case is unconstitutional. Hagerty argued that the ruling should apply to all caps on noneconomic damages, not just in personal injury cases. During the arguments, the Supreme Court judges questioned whether to only restrict damages in personal injury cases but not wrongful death cases.
According to the Waynesville Daily Guide, Ferrara’s attorney, Paul Venker, argued that the “lawmakers who first enacted the cap meant for some limits to be left in place.” He proposed having different policies for personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits. It is unknown when the Missouri Supreme Court may rule on this issue.