AMA files brief in support of Fla. noneconomic damages cap

Michael P. Tremoglie Sep. 27, 2011, 2:14pm


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - The American Medical Association has filed an amicus brief urging the Florida Supreme Court to uphold the state's limit on subjective awards for noneconomic damages.

The AMA, in a brief filed Thursday, joined other organizations representing Florida physicians, hospitals, small business owners and their insurers to ask the Court to preserve patients' access to more affordable medical care.

"The Florida legislature reined in extraordinary noneconomic damages to provide a remedy for the social and economic problems caused by the state's broken liability system," said AMA Past President Cecil B. Wilson, M.D., an internist from Winter Park, Fla.

"Removing this remedy threatens to undo everything that patients and physicians have gained, including greater predictability in the medical liability system, reduced defensive medicine costs and improved access to critical specialists."

Noneconomic damages are largely random sums awarded by juries for unquantifiable emotional issues such as pain and suffering. Floridians who have been harmed by true medical negligence receive unlimited economic damages for items such as lost wages, medical expenses, and reduced earning potential.

"Florida's cap on noneconomic damages strikes a reasonable balance between the needs of patients who have been harmed and the needs all Floridians who need affordable, accessible medical care," Wilson said.

Research measuring the benefits of medical liability reforms that include caps has shown that in states with noneconomic damage caps, liability premium rates were reduced an average of 17.3 percent for internists, 20.7 percent for general surgeons and 25.5 percent for ob-gyns. A 2010 Gallup Poll of physicians found that 73 percent had practiced defensive medicine in the previous year to protect against potential liability.

"Freeing physicians from the liability system's culture of fear would help reduce defensive medicine, estimated to cost the nation $70-$126 billion per year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services," Wilson said.

Medical liability reforms also impact physician access. One study found the number of physicians in high-risk specialties was between 4 and 7 percent higher in states which limited noneconomic damages. Other research determined underserved areas benefit from award limits, specifically in the greater number of surgical and support specialists.

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