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Florida Supreme Court Overturns Malpractice Cap

If you lose a loved one because of negligence by a physician, hospital or other health care provider, you would reasonably expect that the law would hold the responsible party fully accountable for the mistake. However, in Florida, this was not always the case until a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court struck down caps on certain medical malpractice awards.

Prior Law

In 2003, the Florida Legislature, in an attempt to reign in malpractice insurance costs that were allegedly causing physicians to leave the state, passed a law that set a cap on the amount of damages that may be awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits. Under this law, malpractice victims were allowed to recover the full amount of their tangible economic losses, such as loss of income or medical bills. However, the bill limited the amount of intangible and noneconomic costs, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of companionship, to $500,000 in most cases. In cases where enforcing the cap would result in "manifest injustice," courts had the discretion to allow malpractice plaintiffs to recover up to $1 million.

Caps Unconstitutional

However, the recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court, has struck down this limit on noneconomic damages. The case in question began when parents of a woman who died because she bled to death after giving birth sued the hospital for wrongful death, alleging that medical malpractice caused the death. Since the woman was treated by U.S. Air Force Medical Staff, the lawsuit was filed in federal court. A federal judge determined that the woman had not received adequate medical care and awarded $2 million in noneconomic damages to the parents. However, because of Florida's cap, the amount was reduced to $1 million. The parents appealed the verdict.

Upon appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Florida's caps on noneconomic damages did not violate the U.S. Constitution. However, the court ruled that the Florida Supreme Court should decide whether the state's constitution was violated.

The Florida Supreme Court heard the case in 2012, but spent two years reviewing it. In March 2014, the court ruled in a 5-2 vote that the cap on noneconomic damages violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution. The court noted that the legislature had justified the law because of a "medical malpractice crisis of unprecedented magnitude." However, statistics showed that the number of physicians during the so-called "crisis" actually increased. As a result, the court ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it "bears no rational relationship to a legitimate state objective."

Effects Of The Ruling

As a result of the ruling, Florida juries may now award damages as they see fit in wrongful death lawsuits that were brought on by medical malpractice. Families that have lost a loved one to malpractice will finally be able to seek adequate compensation that allows many of them to get on with their lives. If you have lost a loved one because of medical negligence, an experienced attorney can evaluate your claim and work to ensure that the negligent parties are held accountable for your loss.