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Overview of Medical Malpractice Laws in Missouri
Doctors and other health care professionals swear an oath to do no harm to their patients. As Kansas City medical malpractice lawyers, we recognize some physicians may make reasonable or understandable mistakes due to the inherently uncertain nature of medicine, but they are still held to a higher standard when it comes to acting with reasonable care. When physicians or other health care providers harm patients through negligence, this is medical malpractice.
It’s important to remember that an honest mistake does not excuse medical malpractice. The most common causes of medical malpractice cases are surgical errors, misdiagnoses, delayed diagnoses, gross negligence, and violations of informed consent laws. Proving malpractice is similar to the process for proving negligence in personal injury cases, with a few exceptions:
- First, the plaintiff (the party suing) must prove that an official doctor-patient relationship existed. If you meet a doctor at a dinner party and she jokingly offers unsound medical advice, she would not be guilty of malpractice were you to follow it as if it were real medical advice. The action (or in some cases, inaction) in question must have happened in the course of treatment.
- Second, the plaintiff must prove that the doctor was negligent in some way. This means proving that another similarly skilled, reasonable doctor would have acted differently in the same situation. Plaintiffs’ attorneys in medical malpractice lawsuits typically call in other doctors to testify as expert witnesses and offer what they would have done in the same situation as the defendant.
- Next, the plaintiff must prove that the doctor’s negligence led to the plaintiff’s reported injuries. The plaintiff may only sue for the direct results of the defendant’s malpractice.
- Finally, the plaintiff must prove that actual injury occurred. If the malpractice in question was in fact negligent but did not actually harm the plaintiff, the plaintiff has no claim.
In the state of Missouri, plaintiffs must follow a two-year statute of limitations for filing medical malpractice lawsuits. This means the plaintiff has two years from the date of an incident of medical malpractice to sue. Some injuries from medical malpractice do not immediately manifest, so patients in such situations have two years from the “date of discovery,” or the date they became aware of the problem.
Missouri also has another special law aimed at preventing illegitimate malpractice claims. Plaintiffs must file an affidavit of merit to the court within 90 days of filing a claim for medical malpractice. This affidavit must prove that the plaintiff consulted a qualified expert about the case and the expert deemed the defendant was negligent in his behavior. This expert will usually appear later during proceedings to testify as an expert witness.
Fault and Damages
Some states have specified caps, or limits, for damages awarded in medical malpractice cases. Missouri had such a law until 2012 when it was deemed unconstitutional, but Missouri does have a special rule for damages in cases involving more than one defendant. If a case includes two defendants and one is found more than 50% at fault for a patient’s injuries, the more at-fault defendant may be liable for the entirety of the patient’s damages.
Injured patients can potentially recover damages for medical expenses (such as the costs of any necessary corrective or restorative surgeries), pain and suffering, and punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish defendants for intentionally harmful or grossly negligent behavior to discourage future incidents. Medical malpractice cases can quickly escalate into complex legal battles with multiple defendants, so connect with a qualified and reliable Kansas City injury attorney to navigate your case.