Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Caps on Medical Malpractice Damages

For over a decade, Florida patients who were injured by a doctor’s negligence or malpractice have been limited in the amount they could recover in compensation. In medical malpractice lawsuits, injured patients could only recover $500,000 in damages for their pain and suffering, or up to $1 million in cases of catastrophic injuries. Recently, the state’s highest court found that these limits are unconstitutional, opening the door for injured people to recover full compensation for their injuries. Our medical malpractice attorneys  in Miami are happy to see that the highest court in the land has ruled against these caps. Not surprisingly, the caps have made it more difficult to access courts and for medical malpratice victims recover for negligent healthcare services.

Broward Case Challenges Law

In 2003, then-Governor Jeb Bush signed into law a piece of legislation meant to protect doctors from the rising costs of practicing medicine. The law aimed to correct what the legislature called a “medical malpractice insurance crisis.” According to the governor and the supporting legislators, the high cost of physicians’ medical malpractice insurance premiums was forcing doctors to either leave Florida to practice in another state or retire from practicing medicine early.

A medical malpractice case out of Broward County challenged this reasoning and put the medical malpractice caps at the center of a statewide debate. In 2007, plaintiff Susan Kalitan had surgery on her wrist for carpal tunnel syndrome. What should have been a relatively routine operation ended with a Kalitan suffering a perforated esophagus because of misplaced anesthesia tubes during surgery.

After Kalitan awoke from surgery, she complained of chest pain but was discharged from the hospital anyway with medication for her pain. The next day, she was found unresponsive and required emergency surgery to fix the hole in her esophagus. While unconscious, she suffered serious brain damage and was placed into a drug-induced coma for several weeks. Multiple additional surgeries were necessary to repair the damage to her esophagus. She continues to have pain in her upper body and required extensive therapy to regain some of her mobility.

In the ensuing lawsuit, a jury found that Kalitan had suffered a catastrophic injury and was awarded $4 million for her past and future pain and suffering. However, because of the statutory medical malpractice cap, her damages were reduced to $1 million.

Florida Supreme Court Finds Patients Deserve More

Kalitan appealed the reduction of her pain and suffering damages. The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the damage caps were unconstitutional, and reinstated the full amount of the jury’s verdict. That decision was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which issued its 4-3 ruling on June 8, 2017. In that decision, the Supreme Court held that the caps on non-economic damages violated Kalitan’s equal protection rights. The Court wrote that “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 in addressing the medical malpractice crisis.”The court found that attorneys for the defense could not show that the damage caps prevented doctors from leaving the state or retiring early. While the malpractice insurance companies had profited tremendously from the 2003 law, there was no evidence showing that the caps had passed any savings on to individual doctors. As a result, the caps were not related to the law’s stated purpose.This ruling is similar to a 2014 Florida Supreme Court case which held that caps on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases were also unconstitutional and violated the equal protection clause.

Victims of Malpractice Deserve Experienced Representation

The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling will allow the victims of medical malpractice to receive full and fair compensation for their injuries. Instead of being limited by an outdated law, injured people can now receive everything to which a judge or jury finds them entitled. At Gerson & Schwartz, P.A., our attorneys know how much pain medical negligence can cause, and will fight for all the damages allowed under the law. If you were injured by a doctor’s negligence, a knowledgeable Miami medical malpractice attorney can eview your case for free and will help you protect your rights. To schedule an appointment, contact our office Miami law offices today by calling 305-371-6000.

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