Florida Supreme Court Rules Medical Malpractice Caps Unconstitutional
In a landmark decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled noneconomic damages caps in cases involving medical malpractice unconstitutional. Having previously declared the caps unconstitutional in medical malpractice wrongful death claims, the 4-3 Thursday ruling strikes caps involving those living with the damages caused by a health care providers’ negligence.
The Court’s majority opinion held that caps on noneconomic damages were arbitrarily implemented and unfairly limited the rights of victims most severely harmed by the mistakes of medical professionals. The court also stated that the caps did not definitively reduce insurance rates as lawmakers had claimed they would. Under the previous law, noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases were capped at $500,000, or $1 million in cases where injuries were catastrophic. Noneconomic damages include the pain and suffering and emotional injuries suffered by victims and their loved ones.
The Court’s ruling arises from a case involving a seriously injured Florida woman who underwent carpal tunnel surgery at a government-run Broward County hospital. During the procedure, an anesthesia tube punctured the woman’s esophagus. Despite her complaints of chest and back pain, doctors did not identify the injury and instead provided her with pain medication and sent her home.
The woman was discovered unconscious the following day and was rushed to the hospital for life-saving surgery. She remained in a drug-induced coma for several weeks and was required to undergo additional surgeries and intensive therapy in order to be able to eat and drink on her own. As a result of her injuries, the woman continues to experience pain, mental anguish, limited mobility, and difficulty performing daily tasks.
In the initial case, a Broward County jury awarded the woman $4 million in noneconomic damages for her past and future pain and suffering. Although it was determined that her injuries were catastrophic, her award was reduced by roughly $3.3 million because of the caps and a separate law that that limits liability for government-run hospitals.
The Supreme Court ruling ensures the woman in this particular case will be entitled to the full amount of damages awarded by the jury. It also sets a precedent that will impact all future cases of medical malpractice in the state of Florida. Victims of medical malpractice, including those who suffer the most devastating injuries and losses, will now be entitled to a full and fair recovery of their noneconomic damages.
A Victory for Victims’ Rights
Thursday’s decision is a significant victory for victims’ rights and one that will hopefully lead the way in refuting tort reform efforts throughout the country. These efforts, which are driven by corporate powers with financial stakes in limiting insurance payouts, focus on slashing the rights of injured victims by capping non-economic damages. They also strip decision-making power away from juries comprised of real citizens, and place that power into the hands of lobbyists and politicians who prioritize profits over people.
Tort reform has been a heated issue nationwide, as Congress is considering several proposed bills that would impact victims who bring legal actions in our civil justice system following preventable injuries. In a previous blog, we discussed these measures and how most Americans are against medical malpractice caps. Real people that comprise our juries, as we have seen time and time again, understand the tremendous emotional toll suffered by victims who have been harmed due to negligence, and they give considerable weight to emotional injuries, mental anguish, and other intangible losses when awarding noneconomic damages. By striking down caps that limited these damages, the Supreme Court now allows victims to receive the compensation they truly deserve.
Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin is a proven Florida personal injury law firm dedicated to providing the bold and unwavering voice victims need in our civil justice system. We believe in the power of juries and the rights of victims to seek a full recovery of all damages incurred due to negligence and substandard care. We are pleased with the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling, and offer our services to victims throughout the state after they have been seriously injured due to medical negligence, as well as families who have endured tragic losses in fatal medical malpractice cases.