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Most personal injuries are preventable. They happen when someone acts outside of the standards of care, such as a driver who speeds or drives drunk. When a preventable mistake causes an injury, the victim has the right to file a personal injury claim in pursuit of damages. In Missouri, however, a law called a damage cap may limit the amount an injured victim can collect.
Damages is the legal term for financial compensation in civil law. There are three main types of damages available in a personal injury claim in Missouri: economic, noneconomic and punitive. Economic damages are the out-of-pocket expenses a victim paid because of an accident, including the costs of medical bills and property repairs. Noneconomic damages are intangible losses, such as pain, suffering and mental anguish. Punitive damages serve to punish a defendant for especially wrongful acts.
A damage cap is a statute that limits how much a plaintiff (injured victim) can receive in compensation from a defendant (at-fault party) during a personal injury claim. Even if a settlement or jury verdict is reached that exceeds the state’s damage cap, the plaintiff will be unable to receive more than the applicable limit.
Many states impose damage caps to control payout amounts for certain categories of damages or types of defendants. For example, some states only apply damage caps to cases against the government. This type of cap serves the purpose of protecting the government from large payouts that could lead to bankruptcy. Other states apply damage caps to noneconomic or punitive damages only.
Missouri has a damage cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims. Senate Bill 239, passed into law in 2015, states that no claimant may recover more than $400,000 in noneconomic damages or $700,000 for a catastrophic injury or death during a malpractice claim against a health care provider. The law also states that this limit will increase by 1.7% each year. As of 2021, the damage cap is $442,574 for a noncatastrophic injury and $787,671 for a catastrophic injury or death.
This damage cap only applies to medical malpractice lawsuits, and only on noneconomic damages. This means that in a medical malpractice claim, there is no limit to the amount a plaintiff can receive in economic damages, such as medical costs and lost wages. When it comes to payment for emotional pain or physical suffering, however, a claimant cannot recover more than Missouri’s current cap.
You will also be subject to a damage cap if you are going up against a government entity during your personal injury claim. If you need to make a claim against the state or municipal government for its negligence or that of one of its agents, you will face a noneconomic damage cap of $460,499 as of 2021 (source: the Missouri Department of Insurance). Claims against public entities in Missouri also have an economic damage cap of $441,130.
If you wish to recover as much compensation as possible for your injury, up to Missouri’s damage caps, hire a personal injury lawyer to represent you. Insurance companies take attorneys more seriously than unrepresented claimants. Your attorney can negotiate with the company for an amount that adequately addresses your injuries and losses. Even if your claim involves a damage cap, your lawyer can still fight for maximum recovery on your behalf.
The laws surrounding damage caps are always changing in Missouri. Over the last several years, the state’s damage caps have been raised, lowered, ruled unconstitutional and reinstated by lawmakers. Speak to a personal injury attorney for the most up-to-date information about Missouri’s damage caps and how they may affect your claim.