If you've been injured by substandard medical care in Missouri, you might be thinking of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. It's important to point out that these cases are always extremely complicated, making the help of a good medical malpractice attorney essential. But it can also be helpful to understand the basics of the process before you decide to proceed to court. This article will cover some of the key provisions of Missouri's medical malpractice laws, including:
Missouri, like all states, has laws called "statutes of limitations" that set limits on the amount of time a plaintiff (the person suing) has to file different types of cases in the civil court system. In Missouri, an injured person typically has two years from the date on which the medical negligence occurred to file a medical malpractice claim.
However, Missouri law provides a few exceptions to this standard two-year deadline. In situations where the medical malpractice case is based on a foreign object left in the patient's body or when the case is based on a health care provider's negligent failure to inform the patient of medical test results, the patient has two years from the date the patient discovered or reasonably should have discovered the injury.
But, under what's called a "statute of repose," an injured patient is barred from filing a medical malpractice case more than ten years after the date the underlying medical error occurred—even if the patient couldn't have known about the injury at any point during those ten years.
Finally, Missouri has special rules for situations in which the injured patient is a minor younger than 18. In general, medical malpractice cases involving a minor child must be filed by the time the child turns 20 years old.
Note that no matter which deadline applies to your case, statutes of limitations are always strictly enforced. If you fail to get your lawsuit filed before the time limit expires, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.105 (2022).)
Missouri medical malpractice law requires the plaintiff (or the plaintiff's attorney) to file an affidavit with the court at the beginning of the lawsuit, in order to demonstrate that the claim has merit. (This document is called a "certificate of merit" in some states.) The affidavit must declare that the plaintiff has obtained the written opinion of "a legally qualified health care provider," who has stated that:
Under Missouri law, a health care provider is "legally qualified" to provide an opinion if he or she is licensed in the same profession as the defendant and either actively practicing or is within five years of retirement from actively practicing in substantially the same specialty as the defendant.
The affidavit must be filed with the court within 90 days of the filing of a medical malpractice complaint (the document that starts the lawsuit), unless the court finds that "good cause" exists to extend the deadline for a period of no more than an additional 90 days. If you fail to file the affidavit on time, the court can dismiss your case.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 538.225 (2022).)
As part of broader tort-reform efforts, many states place limits (or "caps") on the compensation you can receive if your medical malpractice case succeeds. Missouri, like most other states with similar laws, caps noneconomic damages, which include compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, inconvenience, and other losses that are difficult to measure with a precise dollar amount.
In 2022, Missouri's cap on noneconomic damages for injuries resulting from medical malpractice is $450,098, regardless of the number of defendant health care providers involved. For medical malpractice cases involving "catastrophic personal injury" or death, the cap on noneconomic damages increases to $787,671 (in 2022). By law, both of those figures are bumped up by 1.7% each year. (Current damages caps—and caps for future years—are posted on the website of the Missouri Department of Insurance.)
It's important to note that these caps do not apply to economic damages, such as lost wages, lost earning capacity, and the costs of past or future medical treatment related to the malpractice. There are no limits on the amount of economic damages that can be awarded in a Missouri medical malpractice case.