An effort to protect doctors from large punitive damage awards in medical malpractice suits has been stopped in the state senate.

The state supreme court has ruled the state’s previous caps on non-economic damages violate the constitution.   Doctors had been hoping the legislature would pass a new law this year saying they could not be hit with punitive damages greater than $350,000. 

But eight hours of stalling debate left sponsor Dan Brown of Rolla without a vote. One senator opposing Brown’s limits complained the legislation was protecting everyone but the malpractice victim.  In the end, Brown and opponents could not agree on a limit amount. 

Although he hopes to continue negotiations to salvage the bill this year, he admits his chances are limited in the time left—and that means doctors are vulnerable.  “You can sue him for any amount of money,” he says. “The sky’s the limit.”

Brown fears doctors and insurance companies will leave the state, as they were doing before tort reform passed in 2005.  He says the damage limits imposed then quadrupled the number of malpractice insurance companies providing coverage, and increased numbers of doctors here.

An alternative proposal to establish a state pool that would pay punitive damage claims above $350,000 was voted down. 

AUDIO: Brown interview 9:14