Pain and Suffering Damages in Missouri

Pain and suffering damages are hard to pin down. Is a hangnail enough to justify damages? No. Are third-degree burns enough? Probably yes. But there are a lot of cases in between those two extremes that will apply to most pain and suffering claims brought in Missouri. And if your case falls in the medical malpractice area, your compensation may be limited by state lawmakers’ repeated attempts to pass caps on these damages. What does that mean for victims that persuade a jury full of Show Me State skeptics that they really did suffer pain and anguish after an accident? Read on to find out.

What Are Pain and Suffering Damages?

These hard to pin down “pain and suffering” damages are often discussed in legal drama television shows and movies, but what are they really? Pain and suffering damages account for the physical pain and emotional distress that a person deals with after an accident or intentional harm by another person. The emotional distress (or “anguish”) portion of these damages often factors in depression, anxiety, loss of sleep, and other mental symptoms that accompany the injuries sustained. Because there is no easily calculable dollar amount associated with these injuries, pain and suffering awards are considered non-economic (or “general”) damages.

Things that a jury might consider when attempting to place a dollar value on pain and suffering include:

  • To what extent will the injured party’s daily routine be limited or altered?
  • Will the injury impact relationships at home or work?
  • To what extent does the pain or injury affect sleep or other lifestyle factors?
  • Will the injury impact the party in the long term?

Limits on Pain and Suffering Damages

Obviously, with no easily ascertainable dollar amount attributable to pain and anguish, there is fear of, and potential for, abuse by sympathetic juries in the form of major awards – sometimes many times higher than the actual economic damages that occurred as a result of an accident.

Many states, Missouri included, have limits on these damages in certain cases to keep awards under control. While ostensibly reducing the potential for abuse, these laws also limit the recovery available to those who are legitimately injured and suffering excruciating pain or distress. Missouri’s cap applies to medical malpractice cases only – and may have issues if challenged in court, as a similar cap was struck down previously by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2012.

 

Comparative Negligence

 

Damages are reduced by one’s own percentage fault. (Mo. Rev. Stat. Section 537.765.1)

 

Non-Economic Damages

 

No cap generally.

 

Medical Malpractice

 

Current cap is $400,000 for most cases and $700,000 for catastrophic cases. (Mo. Rev. Stat. Section 538.210.1)

Pure Comparative Fault May Reduce Pain and Suffering Damage Awards

Missouri is a “pure comparative fault” state. In these types of states, the law limits the injured party’s damage recovery in proportion to their degree of fault. The judge or jury sets percentages of fault for each party, unless a case settles first. For example, if a driver is injured in an accident, but was found to be 15 percent at fault (such as someone speeding), they can recover up to 85 percent of their damages. The reverse is also true – the party 85 percent at fault can still, theoretically, recover 15 percent of his or her damages.

Statutory Limits Apply to Medical Malpractice Cases – For Now

In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the state’s cap on non-economic damages (including pain and suffering), which applied to medical malpractice cases only. In doing so, the court held that the law violated the state’s traditional (“common law”) right to a jury trial where the jury sets the proper amount of damages – a law limiting damages interferes with that jury’s duties and the victim’s rights, in other words.

Not to be deterred, Missouri lawmakers passed a very similar cap in 2015 that tied a damage cap in the same medical malpractice cases to statutory (written) law – in an attempt to avoid that sticky issue with traditional common law rights.

It remains to be seen whether their handiwork in crafting the new caps will survive the Missouri high court’s scrutiny, but for now, the current cap is set at $400,000 for most medical malpractice personal injury cases for non-economic damages. A higher cap of $700,000 applies to catastrophic cases, which include blindness, paralysis, or brain injury. The state’s wrongful death cap was adjusted upward by the same law to the same $700,000 limit.

Contact an Experienced Attorney for a Free Claim Review

Pain and suffering is hard to prove to a skeptical jury and the limits placed on those damages in medical malpractice cases can present an additional obstacle if they apply to your case. Contact an experienced attorney for a free claim review where you can discuss your case, strategy, and chances of recovery.

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