One of the most important Missouri legal decisions of the decade has just been decided by the Missouri Supreme Court. In the case of Deborah Watts, the court ruled that section 538.210 of the Missouri Code, which imposes a cap on non-economic medical malpractice damage payments, is unconstitutional as it violates the plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury in order to determine their damages.

Watts brought the case before the Supreme Court after a lower court had capped the payouts on a medical malpractice claim she had made. Watts’s son, Naython Watts, was born with permanent and disabling brain injuries as a result of the actions of doctors at the hospital leading up to and during the birth. The jury in the original case agreed that Watts had been harmed, and made a ruling for a plan to pay out the judgment over time, limited by the statute-mandated cap on non-economic damages payments.

The hospital and other defendants, collectively referred to as Cox in the decision, argued that they were within the bounds of the law and that the prior jury decision was proper. The Court ruled the relevant section of the law unconstitutional, and remanded the case for further review by a lower court.

To quote the decision:

“This Court further holds that the trial court abused its discretion in entering a periodic payment schedule pursuant to section 538.220 that did not assure full compensation due to the interest rate and 50-year payment schedule.”

In essence, the long payment period and the low interest rate set for the payment meant that Watts would be receiving well under the actual amount set for her, even with the cap taken into consideration. It was a clear instance of the law failing to provide protection for someone decidedly harmed by the actions of another party.