Both filings and verdicts in medical malpractice cases in the St. Louis Metropolitan are dramatically down according to circuit clerks and knowledgeable attorneys interviewed. The Alton Telegraph recently reported that in Madison County – – the single county deemed “most liberal” with regard to jury verdicts according to insurance industry sources, malpractice cases filed in Madison County totaled only 12 cases through approximately November 1 of 2010, down 80 % from the level of 59 cases filed in 2003. Malpractice litigation and verdicts have fallen significantly in every other county venue in the metropolitan St. Louis area since 2003 thanks in large part to the effect of so-called “tort reform” legislation designed to take away verdicts rendered by juries to a certain “maximum” level. In Missouri, no matter what the evidence is, a Plaintiff, no matter what the evidence is, no matter how many bad acts of the Defendants are proven and no matter how many Defendants there are in the case, a Plaintiff can recover only $350,000 in non-economic damages (such as pain, suffering, inconvenience, embarrassment, depression, etc.) in a single case. This limitation has all but dried up some aspects of medical malpractice litigation such as nursing home malpractice cases, where there is little in economic damages to recover for an elderly person and the expenses of litigation often eat up a larger portion of the recovery than attorney’s fees. Tom J. Hopkins, a Madison County Plaintiff’s attorney told the Alton Telegraph “the average medical malpractice case takes $50,000 (in attorney investment) and three or four years in attorney time. Jurors have decided they are going to raise the bar in terms of the burden of proof in these cases. There is no question: It is more difficult to prove a case now.”
The Wall Street Journal quoted Dr. Peter Pronovost, a patient-safety researcher at Johns Hopkins University recently who estimated the medical diagnostic errors kill 40,000-80,000 hospital patients annually in the United States based on autopsy studies over the past four decades. According to the Journal, medical professionals are analyzing breakdowns in care that led to missed, delayed or incorrect diagnoses and health insurers and healthcare providers are developing programs to avert mistakes. Thus, the Journal headlined the article What the Doctor Missed: Using Malpractice Claims to Help Physicians Avoid Diagnostic Mistakes, Delays.