Florida Supreme Court finds Medical Malpractice Caps on Damages Unconstitutional!

It’s great that the Florida Supreme Court just found these caps on medical malpractice damages unconstitutional, but what does all that mean?

Who challenged the law?

The case name is Estate of Michelle Evette McCall v. United States, No. SC11-1148.

What statute violated the Florida constitution?

The Florida statute challenged was the cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages provided in section 766.118.

How was the constitution violated?

The court found the cap itself violated the “Equal Protection Clause” in the Florida Constitution.

What did the court say?

“Having carefully considered the arguments of both parties and the amici, we conclude that section 766.118 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution under the rational basis test. The statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages fails because it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants. In such circumstances, medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same rights to full compensation because of arbitrarily diminished compensation for legally cognizable claims. Further, the statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages does not bear a rational relationship to the stated purpose that the cap is purported to address, the alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.”

How long has the statute been the law before today?

The statute was passed into law in 2003.  Since that time Floridians have suffered from unfair and severe restrictions when bringing medical malpractice claims.

What questions are left?

The case itself was based on the death of a medical malpractice victim.  Therefore, the Supreme Court indicated this case was restricted to wrongful death cases.

What is the future of the statute for non-death-related cases?

It is unlikely the Supreme Court would limit its rationale to wrongful death situations.  The fact that a victim dies does not appear to be relevant to the logic of why the statute was struck for being unconstitutional.  It is more likely they restricted the opinion because the case itself was restricted in this appeal to that issue.  It is also reasonable to believe that trial judges will apply the court’s reasoning to their lower-level medical malpractice trials in the future regardless of whether the case is a wrongful death.

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