In a recent decision, the Florida Supreme Court overturned Florida medical malpractice caps on death cases. According to the 2003 law endorsed by former governor Jeb Bush, caps were placed on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. This law was ostensibly passed in an effort to lower medical malpractice insurance and keep doctors from leaving the state. However, in a 5-2 decision, the court ruled that caps on these damages violated the equal protection guarantee of the Florida constitution.
What Are Medical Malpractice Caps In Florida?
Prior to the passage of the 2003 law, anyone could sue a physician for malpractice and ask for as much money as possible in the form of punitive or non-economic damages. However, the 2003 law placed a cap on death benefits in an effort to shield doctors from large malpractice awards to victims.
Florida was not the only state to follow this logic. Currently, at least 35 states have some type of medical malpractice cap. However, seven state supreme courts have ruled medical malpractice caps are unconstitutional.
The McCall Case
The case that led to the court’s decision concerned a young mother who was being treated during her pregnancy at a Fort Walton Beach hospital. In February 2006, Michelle McCall died after bleeding to death following a caesarian section.
Her family filed suit against the federal government, as the hospital where McCall was treated was operated by the Air Force. The family was awarded a total of $2 million in non-economic damages, but the amount was lowered to $1 million due to state law.
The family challenged the law and the case eventually made its way to the Florida Supreme Court. Ultimately, the court ruled that the family should be given the total amount of damages rather than having the award reduced due to the state law.
Why Should Florida Medical Malpractice Caps Be Eliminated?
According to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in McCall, the cap on non-economic damages “serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured.”
Non-economic damages are generally awarded as compensation for pain and suffering. Economic awards refer to items with a tangible value such as medical bills and lost wages. Before the court’s decision, Florida law capped non-economic damages at $500,000 for an injury and $1 million for a death.
The court’s ruling is only applicable to cases in which the patient has died. Injury cases have not yet been addressed, but at some point it is likely that the courts will rule in a similar manner. Victims whose cases were resolved prior to the current decision will not be affected, however.
This case points to a resurgence in the attitude of the public in preferring to allow the court system to decide civil matters rather than the legislature. The supreme court’s decision will likely affect many future medical malpractice cases and may help victims recover compensation that is much more appropriate for Florida medical malpractice death cases than in the past.
If you or a loved one have fallen victim to medical malpractice in Florida and would like guidance on what your rights are, contact a Florida Medical Malpractice attorney at David and Philpot by calling 800 360-7015 or filling out our free case evaluation form today.