Medical Malpractice Damage Awards Uncapped in Florida
Last month, a 4-3 majority decision by the Florida Supreme Court ruled that caps on non-economic medical malpractice damages are unconstitutional. The decision followed a 2008 Broward County case in which doctors were forced to perform life-saving surgery on Susan Kalitan because of their faulty insertion of an anesthesia tube. She was originally awarded $4 million for pain and suffering, however, the non-economic damage caps limited her payout to just over $1 million despite severe, life-long repercussions of the doctor’s negligence.
A medical malpractice case in 2014 that resulted in a wrongful death also contributed to the recent ruling. Michelle McCall experienced blood loss complications in child labor and the physicians were negligent in addressing it. After the non-economic damages payable to her family and newborn child were capped, her estate appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals. This appeal initiated the discussion on the unconstitutionality of damage caps outlined below.
The Jeb Bush administration approved the caps for all Florida medical malpractice cases in 2003. Their approval relied on the existence of a medical malpractice “crisis,” which refers to inflated insurance premiums. Bush believed damage caps would suppress insurance premiums. However, the court concluded that “because there is no evidence of a continuing medical malpractice crisis justifying the discrimination between victims, there is no relationship between the caps and alleviating the purported crisis.”
Furthermore, the court found that “caps arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries,” as evidenced in the 2008 case. According to the court, this arbitrary reduction in differing injury severity also violates the Equal-Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.
How will this ruling impact you?
Pain and suffering damage awards and legal fees will surge in severe claims. Consequently, insurance companies will likely raise rates over time to account for these increased claim payouts and practitioners will need to contemplate coverage with higher limits as liability is no longer capped. This combination could continue to increase the cost of health care for all Florida businesses.
Contact BKS for more information on the recent ruling.