Fla. Supreme Court rules caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits violate state constitution

By Chandra Lye | Jun 21, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Florida has backed a lower court’s ruling that caps on personal injury non-economic damages in cases of medical malpractice violate the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution.

The decision came June 8 after a medical malpractice lawsuit involving a woman who suffered a complication from a carpal tunnel surgery in 2007 at North Broward Hospital District.

During the surgery, the patient's esophagus allegedly was perforated during intubation in the administration of anesthesia. Despite complaining of chest pain, the patient's condition was not fully discovered until the next day. She underwent emergency surgery to repair her esophagus but never regained full health, the complaint states. She was awarded $4 million in non-economic damages by a jury.

However, after several post-trial movements, the trial court issued a final written judgment that limited the non-economic damages by the caps defined in the Florida Statutes. This led to the award being reduced by about $2 million. A further $1.3 million was taken off the amount “as the hospital's share of liability was capped at $100,000,” the court ruling states.

The caps were originally put into place to reduce the cost of malpractice insurance. However, the Supreme Court justices wrote that putting the caps in place did not prove that insurance premiums were reduced.

The Supreme Court drew the conclusion that the caps were illogical, “because of the arbitrary reduction of compensation without regard to the severity of the injury does not bear a rational relationship to the Legislature's stated interest on addressing the medical malpractice crisis.” 

This, the court concluded that the statutory caps “unreasonably and arbitrarily” limited rewards of the who were most grievously injured by medical negligence.

Justice Ricky Polston dissented, claiming the Legislature did what it had to do to ensure the quality and availability of health care for Florida residents.

He also stated it was immaterial whether the policy of caps on non-economic damages affected insurance premiums.

He concluded that it was not the place of the majority in the court to change a statute or policy that it did not like.

He wrote that “improperly interjects the judiciary into a legislative function “

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