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Missouri House speaker calls for medical malpractice changes

Scott Lauck//January 8, 2014

Missouri House speaker calls for medical malpractice changes

Scott Lauck//January 8, 2014

Tim Jones (R-Eureka)
Tim Jones (R-Eureka)

The speaker of the Missouri House vowed Wednesday to make “much-needed medical malpractice reform” a key part of his legislative agenda.

In a speech marking the start of the 2014 legislative session in Jefferson City, Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, called for a series of business-friendly measures, including those that would end what he said was a “punitive litigation culture that seeks to unfairly punish our hard-working doctors and nurses.” He added that the current system puts Missouri at a disadvantage compared with surrounding states.

Jones did not mention any particular measures, but his speech appeared to support a renewed effort to reinstate a cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.

The Missouri Supreme Court in 2012 struck down the state’s $350,000 cap as a violation of the constitutional right to a jury trial. The House approved legislation last year to restore the cap, but the measure died in the Senate.

Lawmakers already have filed a bill this year to reinstate the cap. Jones is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Opponents of the cap, including the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, say jurors should be trusted to determine the proper amount of damages to award to victims of medical negligence. They argue that the cap played little role in setting malpractice insurance rates or in doctors’ decisions to work in Missouri.

Jones also called for lower taxes, education reform and “right-to-work” legislation that would prevent union membership from being a condition of employment.

Leaders in the Missouri Senate also called for lower taxes, but President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said clarifying the state’s school transfer law will be his main priority.

“If we are able to only pass one important piece of legislation besides the budget, it needs to be a bill that will fix this problem,” Dempsey said.

The Missouri Supreme Court has twice ruled — most recently in December — that state law allows students in unaccredited districts to transfer to schools in surrounding districts. The transfer law has been invoked in Kansas City and St. Louis, leading to what Dempsey characterized as a “logistical nightmare.”

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