A new Missouri law that impacts personal injury claims goes into effect on August 28, 2017. The portion of costs considered to be medical expenses for accident injuries will be presented to juries as solely the amount already paid to the hospital and the amount still due to be paid to the provider. This means that juries will not hear the total amount the patient was originally billed for. Some lawyers think that it will alter payouts by potentially thousands of dollars since the medical facilities and individual insurers negotiate the actual amount to be paid.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 2 million people visit hospitals annually after automobile accidents. They claim that the average emergency room visit costs approximately $3,300. One personal injury lawyer, explained that insurance companies work to have prices negotiated (lowered). He feels that the state is simply saying that hospitals and other providers can absorb the costs.
State Senator Ed Emery stated that the move is an accounting change designed for simplification, but that there could be some negative results as providers and insurers make the transition. Further, those without health insurance will still be eligible for recovery of all medical costs. Cox claims that this law is another attempt to curtail personal injury payouts, which the government feels are excessive.
Representative Joe Don McGaugh issued a statement explaining that medical expenses are just one part of the suit, among many, for juries to consider. In summary, he further stated that the legislation is based on common sense; people should only recover for the actual expenses incurred. This law does not impact non-economic damages or punitive damages.
Missouri Laws on Personal Injury Damages
The state defines the following categories of damages as follows:
- Economic damages: Including medical expenses, losses of earnings (wages) and lost ability to earn. These are not limited.
- Non-economic damages: Includes pain, suffering, impairment, deformity, loss of consortium etc.
- Future damages: Calculated by the trier of fact based on expenses the party will accrue.
- Past damages: Costs that have already been accrued at the time of award.
- Medical damages: Medicine, surgical costs, therapy expenses, lab fees, dental costs, rehabilitation expenses etc.
- Punitive Damages: Are awarded to punish a defendant who acted with malice or willful intent. They also serve as a deterrent so others do not choose to demonstrate such misconduct.
In medical malpractice cases where a jury is the trier of fact, the court will not instruct the jury about any limitations (caps) on non-economic damages. During the trial, no party is permitted to offer testimony regarding the existence of monetary limitations. Non-economic damage limits are subject to an annual increase of 1.7% and are managed by the Director of The Missouri Department of Insurance. The current limit for non-economic damages in the state is $400,000.