Florida law had imposed limits on pain and suffering damages in personal injury cases since 2003, but that has now changed. In a recent case, the Florida Supreme Court found these medical malpractice caps unconstitutional, but the court was far from unanimous in its decision.
In a 4 to 3 decision, the Court agreed with the lower appellate court that damage caps are unconstitutional. The lower appellate court based its decision in part on a 2014 decision by the Florida Supreme Court that found the noneconomic damage caps were unconstitutional in wrongful death malpractice cases.
In the recent case, Susan Kalitan sued the North Broward Hospital District and other defendants after the anesthesia process used during her carpal tunnel surgery perforated her esophagus. She had to undergo emergency surgery and was in a drug-induced coma for weeks after the life-saving surgery. The jury awarded $4 million in noneconomic damages at trial, but the trial court cut this amount in half because of the 2003 damage caps.
Kalitan appealed, and the appellate court agreed with her argument that the damage caps were unconstitutional. The Florida Supreme Court concurred.
Why did the Florida Supreme Court strike down noneconomic damage caps?
The Florida Supreme Court found that the damages caps violate equal-protection rights. The Court struck down damages caps in wrongful death malpractice claims in a different case in 2014, and the Kalitan ruling extends that to include malpractice actions in which the victim survives. To apply the damages caps only to malpractice cases in which the victim does not die would be “arbitrary and invidious discrimination between medical malpractice victims.” The Supreme Court held that damage caps are arbitrary, and cause harm to the people who experience the worst injuries.
The justices also did not agree that there is a malpractice insurance crisis in Florida. The Florida Legislature justified the 2003 damages caps by claiming there was a malpractice insurance crisis in Florida at that time. The Court found that, as there was no evidence that an insurance crisis currently exists, there is “no rational relationship” between the law that imposes the damages caps and the goal of averting the claimed crisis.
Why did some judges on the FL Supreme Court disagree with striking down noneconomic damage caps?
The three justices who did not agree with the decision wrote in their dissent that the majority was overstepping its authority. The Florida Legislature is the body empowered to make laws, not the Florida Supreme Court.
How has the insurance industry reacted to the Kalitan case?
The insurance industry claims the purpose of the 2003 legislation was to protect the right of patients to get quality medical care. The industry has reacted to the Kalitan decision with disappointment, although admittedly without surprise. The industry predicts the ruling will result in:
- More medical malpractice claims
- Higher dollar amount of claims
- Higher medical malpractice premiums
- Increased cost of healthcare
How might the FL Supreme Court Decision affect me?
Before this ruling, victims of malpractice could only receive a portion of the noneconomic damages due to them. If you are the victim of medical malpractice, you can now recover all the noneconomic damages due to you.
The medical malpractice team at the Montero Law Center is dedicated to helping victims of negligence. Call us today to schedule your free consultation. We are standing by at 954-767-6500 to help you.