Medical malpractice case heard by the Missouri Supreme Court regarding constitutionality of Section 538.225, RSMo., requiring affidavit of heath care provider

The Missouri Supreme Court will determine whether requiring medical malpractice plaintiffs to file an affidavit from a “legally qualified health care provider” in support of their claim is constitutional under Section 538.225, RSMo. Under Section 538.225, a Missouri medical malpractice plaintiff must file an affidavit with the court stating that a legally qualified health care provider has provided him with a written opinion that states that the defendant did not use the care a reasonably prudent and careful health care provider would have under similar circumstances and that this failure caused plaintiff’s damages. Under this statute, a “legally qualified health care provider” must practice in the same specialty as the defendant.

Spradling et al. v. SSM Health Care St. Louis, et al., challenges Section 538.225, and plaintiffs argue that the trial court’s interpretation of the statute is unconstitutional. Spradling brought medical malpractice claims against defendants for surgery on her back which left her paralyzed. The surgery was performed by Dr. Sprich, a neurosurgeon. In 2009, SSM Medical Group moved to dismiss Spradling’s medical malpractice claims against it, arguing that plaintiff’s affidavit did not meet to the statutory requirements because the opinion was written by a radiologist, not a neurosurgeon like Sprich. Therefore, SSM argued that plaintiff’s health care provider was not a “legally qualified health care provider” as defined by Section 538.225 because Sprich is a neurosurgeon, and the radiologist did not practice in substantially the same specialty as Sprich. The trial court sustained the motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff argued before the Missouri Supreme Court on April 14, 2010 that Section 538.225 is unconstitutional. Plaintiff argued that the health care provider, even though a radiologist and not a neurosurgeon, is a legally qualified health care provider and should be allowed to provide an opinion for the purposes of 538.225.

As it has been interpreted, 538.225 requires a “legally qualified health care provider” to have credentials above and beyond those required of an expert who may testify as to the standard of care to support plaintiff’s claims of negligence. As such, the standard for a plaintiff bringing a lawsuit, and to have access to the courts, is higher than that required of him to succeed at trial.