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Florida’s Medical Malpractice Caps Held Unconstitutional in Supreme Court Decision

The Florida Supreme Court recently reversed a 2003 law limiting damages in wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuits. Florida has now joined Georgia, Illinois and other states in finding caps on damages in medical malpractice cases to be unconstitutional and violating the equal-protection clause of the Florida Constitution.

Proponents of the tort reform law (mostly insurance companies) used misinformation and scare tactics and even misrepresented facts and statistics in 2003 to convince voters and our Legislature that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits filed by greedy trial lawyers and the resulting jury verdicts were the reasons why healthcare costs were out of control. They even blamed the poor economy on these law suits and claimed that doctors would leave the state in droves if the damage caps were not passed.

The case that was before the Florida Supreme Court stemmed from a 2005 birth injury lawsuit involving a wrongful death at an Air Force medical clinic – Michelle Evette McCall et al v. United States of America.

The ABA Journal reported that — in a plurality opinion, Justice R. Fred Lewis also said the damages cap did not bear a rational relationship to an “alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.” A legislative conclusion that the state was in the midst of such a crisis, threatening access to health care, “is dubious and questionable at the very best,” Lewis said.

The 2003 laws placed caps on how much a person could receive for pain and suffering in a medical malpractice case with limits of $500,000 to $1 million for doctors, nurses and other health professionals and $750,000 to $1.5 million for hospitals and healthcare businesses.

The Supreme Court’s decision will remove the cap on “non-economic” damages when someone dies as a result of medical malpractice.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Paul Anderson, president of the Florida Justice Association, a trial-lawyers group that fought the limits, issued a statement praising the ruling. He said “victims and their families will have the opportunity to be fully compensated for their losses. The cap on non-economic damages unfairly punished victims whose lives were permanently altered by no fault of their own.”

There is no question that this ruling will have profound implications for our clients and for our civil justice system moving forward.