Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down Damage Caps

Yet another effort to restrict the right of jurors to award damages based on evidence has been declared unconstitutional.  This time, the Supreme Court of Missouri struck down the damage caps imposed on damages for pain, suffering, disfigurement, and disability.

In Deborah Watts as Next Friend for Naython Kayne Watts v. Lester E. Cox Medical Centers d/b/a Family Medical Care Center, Lester E. Cox Medical Centers, Melissa R. Hermann, M.D., Matthew P. Green, D.O., and William S. Kelly, M.D., SC91867 (Mo. July 31, 2012),  the court found that the caps violated the Missouri State Constitution because it violated the right to trial by jury.  Article I, section 22(a) of the Missouri Constitution, mandates in pertinent part that “the right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate.”  

The court reached this result after over-ruling twenty year old precedent that said that damage caps did not violate the Constitution.  The court said "while this Court always is hesitant to overturn precedent, it nonetheless has followed its obligation to do so where necessary to protect the constitutional rights of Missouri’s citizens."

The late, great Tom Lambert said it a little differently:  the law isn’t settled until it is settled right.

The opinion also addresses the requirement in Missouri law that requires the reduction of future economic damages to present value.

When the Tennessee Supreme Court studies this issue, this opinion is a great place to start its research.