For those injured by medical negligence in Missouri, the state's medical malpractice laws offer an avenue for compensation. However, a case must be filed within certain time limits. Plaintiffs must also follow certain filing procedures, and other state laws affect how fault is shared among negligent parties and how damages are paid. In this article, we'll look at all of these state laws and how they might affect a medical malpractice case in Missouri.
Medical malpractice cases in Missouri are governed by the state's statute of limitations, which creates a deadline for filing these kinds of lawsuits in the state's civil court system. In Missouri, this deadline falls two years after the date of injury in most cases.
However, several exceptions exist to the two-year rule. For instance, if the injury is due to a foreign object being left inside a patient during surgery, or due to a negligent failure to explain or provide test results, the injured person has two years from the date he or she discovered -- or should reasonably have discovered -- the injury, rather than two years from the date of the surgery or test.
Children in Missouri have ten years from the date of injury or two years from their eighteenth birthday to bring a medical malpractice claim, whichever is later.
Many states "cap," or limit, damages in medical malpractice cases. Common limits on awards affect damages for pain and suffering or punitive damages. Until 2012, Missouri had such a law on the books, but that year the Missouri Supreme Court held that the damages cap was an unconstitutional violation of the right to a jury trial.
Missouri does have a special rule governing "joint damages," or damages in cases where more than one medical professional is found to have contributed to the plaintiff's harm. In Missouri, a defendant in a medical malpractice case who is found to be more than 50 percent at fault may be responsible for paying the entire amount of damages awarded to the injured plaintiff. However, a defendant who is found to be less than 50 percent at fault is responsible for paying only the percentage of the damages award equal to the percentage of fault assigned to that person.
For instance, suppose that in a medical malpractice case, a person is injured when a surgeon and a surgical nurse leave a set of forceps in the person's body after surgery. At trial, the jury finds that the surgeon is 70 percent at fault and the hospital employing the nurse is 30 percent at fault. Because the surgeon was more than 51 percent at fault, he may be required to pay up to 100 percent of the total damages award. However, the hospital may be required to pay only up to 30 percent of the damages, because it was found to be only 30 percent at fault.
Missouri medical malpractice law also requires an affidavit of merit be filed with the court within 90 days of the filing of a medical malpractice complaint. The affidavit of merit must state that a qualified expert was consulted about the case, and that the expert agreed that the defendant was negligent in a way that caused the injured person's injuries. If a case has more than one defendant, a separate affidavit must be filed as to each defendant's role in causing the plaintiff's harm.
The affidavit must be signed by the injured plaintiff or by his or her attorney, and it must include the name, address, and qualifications of the qualified expert medical witness who opined that the defendant was negligent. If an affidavit is not filed, the case may be dismissed.
In addition to requiring an expert's opinion to fulfill the affidavit requirement, Missouri also generally requires expert testimony to be given at trial in order to establish that the defendant's actions in treating the injured patient fell below the generally-accepted medical standard of care. If an expert gives testimony in court, an article or treatise written by that expert may also be used as evidence in the case. However, an article or treatise written by an expert who is not called to testify may not be used as evidence, even if the expert who testifies used it while determining that the defendant's actions fell below the standard of care.