Florida Removes Caps on Noneconomic Damages

Florida Removes Caps on Noneconomic Damages

The Florida Supreme Court ruled on March 13, 2014, that its cap on noneconomic damages (pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, and loss of capacity for enjoyment of life) violated the right to equal protection under the Florida constitution.

The Michelle McCall Medical Malpractice Case

The obstetrical case that challenged this cap involved Michelle McCall, a woman who developed severe preeclampsia who delivered a healthy child. The mother’s blood pressure became dangerously low following delivery.

There were delays associated with delivering medical care to her. Over an hour after a doctor ordered a stat blood count, a nurse attempted to draw blood. The patient was unresponsive and went into cardiac arrest from severe blood loss. She never regained consciousness and was ultimately removed from life support.

Florida Supreme Court strikes down cap on noneconomic damagesThe petitioners filed a claim against the United States (her care took place at a military hospital) under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida found the United States liable and that the Petitioners’ economic damages amounted to $980,462.

Their noneconomic damages totaled $2 million including $500,000 for the McCall son and $750,000 for each of her parents.

Florida Lower Court Decisions

The district court limited the Petitioners’ recovery of wrongful death noneconomic damages to $1 million under Florida’s cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages based on medical malpractice claims and denied a motion filed by the Petitioners to challenge the constitutionality of Florida’s cap.

The Petitioners’ appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit, contending that the cap violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and constituted a taking in violation of the Firth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the cap but granted a motion to the petitioners to take the question to the Supreme Court.

Florida’s previous cap was $500,000 per claimant. No practitioner was liable for more than $500,000 in noneconomic damages regardless of the number of claimants. If the negligence resulted in a permanent vegetative state or death, the total noneconomic damages recoverable from all practitioners, regardless of the number of claimants, should not exceed $1 million.

The Supreme Court concluded that the cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages failed because it imposed unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gave rise to multiple claimants.

The Court also concluded that cap did not bear a rational relationship to the stated purpose that the cap was purported to address, the alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.

The Court cited decisions in other states that struck down caps, including Illinois and New Hampshire, and refuted conclusions of the Florida legislature about a medical malpractice crisis. They noted that while the cap on noneconomic damages limited the amount of money the insurance companies must pay injured victims of medical malpractice, the law did not require insurance companies to use the acquired savings to lower malpractice insurance premiums for physicians.

Premiums for Florida doctors in four specialties had either the highest or second highest premiums compared to 9 other states. Not surprisingly, the leading malpractice carriers as a class are financially strong.

After ruling the cap unconstitutional, the Supreme Court returned the case to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision was not final until the time expired to refile rehearing motions and if filed, determined. Read the decision here. Florida Supreme Court ruling on caps

My Conclusions

Even given the fact that this decision is not yet final, this is wonderful news for the people living in Florida. It is also wonderful news for people who live in other states. It sheds a light of reason in the rhetoric that surrounds this issue.

What do you think? Should there be a cap on awards? Do you practice in a state with caps? If you do, how has that affected your law practice?

Med League provides medical expert witnesses to trial lawyers. Please call us at (908)788-8227 or contact us today to discuss your next case.

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