If you're thinking about filing a Missouri medical malpractice lawsuit, you should know that these cases are notoriously complex. Medical records need to be sifted through, expert witness testimony (for both sides) is often essential, and the injured patient needs to comply with a number of procedural requirements right at the outset. In this article, we'll take a look at Missouri's "Affidavit of Qualified Health Care Provider" requirement, the statute of limitations filing deadline for these kinds of cases, and the current state of Missouri's medical malpractice damages cap.
A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit after suffering some kind of harm.
Missouri, like many states, has a specific statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits.The standard deadline gives an injured patient two years from the date on which the underlying medical error occurred to get a lawsuit filed in the state's civil court system.
You can find the full text of the Missouri statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits at Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.105.
This law goes on to specify that if the malpractice case arose from a health care professional's "introducing and negligently permitting any foreign object to remain within the body of a living person" -- leaving a surgical instrument or sponge inside a patient, for example -- or the negligent failure to inform the patient of his or her medical tests results, then the lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date on which the mistake was, or through the exercise of ordinary prudence could have been, discovered.
There is also an overall deadline (called a "statute of repose") which says no medical malpractice case can be filed in Missouri if more than 10 years have passed since the alleged treatment mistake was made (no matter what type of mistake it was, or when it was discovered).
Finally, a specific filing deadline exists in Missouri for a lawsuit brought by (or on behalf of) a medical malpractice plaintiff who was a minor (under 18) at the time the medical error occurred. Missouri law says that these cases must be filed by the time the prospective plaintiff turns 20 years of age. And for all intents and purposes, the "statute of repose" discussed above does not apply to these claims. In other words, a prospective plaintiff who was under 18 at the time the alleged malpractice was committed still has until his or her 20th birthday to get the lawsuit filed.
If you don't get your medical malpractice lawsuit filed before the applicable deadline, chances are the court will refuse to consider your case. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to (and comply with) the medical malpractice statute of limitations.
Missouri Revised Statutes section 538.225 says that, when bringing a medical malpractice action against a health care provider, the plaintiff (or the plaintiff's attorney) must file an affidavit stating that he or she has obtained a written opinion of a "legally qualified health care provider" who has found that:
Section 538.225 says that this affidavit must be filed within 90 days of the filing of the lawsuit (although if "good cause" is shown, an extension (of no more than an additional 90 days) may be granted.
Failure to file a proper and timely affidavit will likely result in the dismissal of your medical malpractice lawsuit.
In recent years, Missouri's cap on medical malpractice damages has been ruled unconstitutional, and then reworked by the state legislature. The current version of the law caps non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, basically limiting the amount of money that a successful plaintiff can be awarded even after a jury has held that the defendant is liable for committing medical malpractice.
Until 2012, Missouri's cap for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases was firmly set at $350,000. In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the law was an unconstitutional violation of the right to a jury trial. Then, in 2015, Missouri Revised Statutes section 538.210.1 took effect. This law says that in any medical malpractice lawsuit alleging damages caused by the provision of health care services (or the failure to provide health services), the plaintiff won't be able to recover more than $400,000 as compensation for non-economic losses. The $400,000 cap remains in place regardless of the number of health care providers that are sued as part of the medical malpractice lawsuit.
Section 538.210.1 also increases the non-economic damages cap to $700,000 in medical malpractice cases involving "catastrophic personal injury" or wrongful death.
Non-economic damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for the negative effects of medical malpractice that aren't easily calculable, and are more subjective from plaintiff to plaintiff. They include compensation for pain and suffering, stress and anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life, scarring and disfigurement, and similar losses caused by the defendant's malpractice.
This article provides a brief summary of some key Missouri laws that any medical malpractice plaintiff needs to have in mind. If you've got questions about how the state's laws will affect your situation, an experienced Missouri medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.