A case before the State Supreme Court takes aim at medical malpractice caps approved by the legislature in 2005, but the case could be decided without the law being struck down.

At stake for James and Mary Klotz is $274,700, the money denied them because of the cap on non-economic damages imposed by the legislature in 2005. At stake for the legislature, is the law approved to rein in medical malpractice awards in order to keep health care costs from rising dramatically.

Attorney Louis Bogard, arguing for the couple, told the State Supreme Court the legislature acted irrationally in approving medical malpractice caps.

“We are not arguing that all caps are irrational,” but Bogard added that there wasn’t enough evidence for the legislature to rationally conclude that caps were needed to hold down health care costs. Bogard argued that the evidence in 2005 suggested that medical malpractice awards were falling and caps weren’t needed.

Bogard raised several constitutional questions about the medical malpractice reform approved by the legislature in 2005. One question, though, strikes at a technicality rather than the heart of the case. The St. Louis County case against St. Anthony’s Medical Center, Dr. Michael Shapiro and Metro Heart Group arose from treatment a year prior to the legislature’s action. Missouri prohibits legislation being imposed retroactively. While Bogard made it clear he would prefer the court throw out the law altogether, he focused in on the fact that the medical procedure occurred in March of 2004, a year before the legislature imposed the caps.

During the argument in favor of the caps, Chief Judge Ray Price questioned how the argument against Klotz might play out if the bridge across the Mississippi River collapsed.

“Should that bridge fall as it did in Minnesota; 50 people in their cars perish. Could the state the next day pass a statute that saying we’re going to cap their damages at $100, because we just don’t want to pay them?” Price asked.

“No, I don’t believe you could,” responded Attorney Tad Eckenrode.

“Why could they not?” Price countered. “What’s the difference between that and what happened here?”

The attorney for the Klotzes argued the caps can’t be imposed retroactively, but also asked the court to throw the law out altogether.


Brent Martin reports [1:30]