The court ruled 4-3 on June 8 that a law that limited damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice violated the constitution. As part of the ruling, the court nullified a change to the law made in 2003 by the state Legislature and Jeb Bush, who was governor at the time.
The decision was based in part on a ruling by the court in 2014 that a similar cap on wrongful death awards violated the equal-protection clause of the state constitution.
The majority of the court found that the 2003 law’s limits on so-called “non-economic” damages also amounted to a violation of the right to equal protection.
Court: No Insurance ‘Crisis’ Exists
The majority also contested the idea that Florida is experiencing an insurance crisis. Lawmakers used the alleged crisis in approving the caps on damages.
Such caps “arbitrarily” lower awards to plaintiffs who have suffered devastating injuries, the opinion of the majority stated.
The justices also noted that since there is no crisis relating to medical malpractice insurance, no relationship exists between such a crisis and the limits on non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits.
Overstepping Role of the Court?
In their dissent, the three justices who voted against overturning the damages cap alleged that the majority overreached its role. The Legislature, not the courts, make laws, the justices argued.
The justices also stated that the Legislature should decide if a crisis with medical malpractice exists and whether state laws should be changed to address any crisis.
Opposing the Damage Limits
Medical Malpractice attorneys across the state, including Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, opposed the Legislature’s limits on damages, arguing that the change would harm patients who have already suffered severe injuries.
After months of debate, Gov. Bush signed the law with varying damage caps according to factors such as the severity of the injury and the type of providers involved.
Case Spurred by Serious Injury in Surgery
The court’s ruling came in a Broward County case that began in 2007 when Susan Kalitan suffered a perforated esophagus during surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. The tubes that were inserted into her esophagus during anesthesia administration caused the injury.
Following the injury, Kalitan spent six weeks in a medically induced coma and three months in intensive care.
In 2008, Kalitan sued the North Broward Hospital District, along with other defendants who participated in her care. The jury’s award in the case included non-economic damages of $4 million, but the award was reduced by approximately $2 million due to the caps included in the 2003 changes to the law.
As part of the change to the damages, a circuit court judge reduced the award for pain and suffering to $1 million based on the cap in cases that involve catastrophic injuries. Other types of injuries were subject to limits of $500,000 on damage awards, and different caps were in effect when the negligence of a non-medical practitioner played a role.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in 2015 that the damage limits violated the constitution. The hospital appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.
Get the Compensation You Deserve for Medical Malpractice
With the recent ruling, the Florida Supreme Court has acknowledged the significant harm that medical malpractice can cause to patients. If you’ve been injured due to the negligence of a medical practitioner, it’s critical that you work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. For a free consultation, contact Kaire & Heffernan, LLC.