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Florida Supreme Court Rules Medical Malpractice Damages Caps Unconstitutional

In June 2017, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the ruling of a lower court by finding that caps imposed on non-economic damages sought in medical malpractice cases are unconstitutional. In a 4-3 decision, the state’s highest court found that placing caps on damages that are non-economic — that is those that aren’t as easy to quantify with a monetary value such as pain, disability, and suffering — violates the mandates set forth by the Florida constitution’s equal protection clause.

This is demonstrated by the fact that while some plaintiffs are able to be fully compensated for their pain, suffering, and disability, others who face more serious injuries often cannot do so because of an arbitrary limit set by a law passed in 2003.

2003 Law Limits Award Amounts

The 2003 law limited the compensation awarded to plaintiffs to $500,000 in most cases with exceptions for awards up to $1 million in extreme situations. This law was ostensibly enacted due to the perception that a crisis existed because of an increase in the cost of malpractice insurance for those in the medical industry. Since that ruling has taken effect, it has not been proven that caps on non-economic damages have any effect — positive or negative — on the premiums charged by insurance companies for medical malpractice insurance.

Florida High Court Ruling

The state’s supreme court handed down the decision after a woman suffered a perforated esophagus in 2007 at the hands of her doctors at North Broward Hospital District. During an intubation for anesthesia, the woman’s esophagus was damaged so profoundly that emergency surgery was required. The patient never regained her full health. Though the jury awarded $4 million to the woman for non-economic damages, the trial court reduced the damages she was able to collect because of the caps set by the 2003 law.

This ruling has far-reaching implications for those people who are injured by others. In addition to their medical expenses, these plaintiffs are now able to sue for damages that are equal to their pain, suffering, and disability.

If you think you have a medical malpractice case in the South Florida area, contact Ginnis & Krathen to speak with a personal injury attorney today. Call our office at (954) 833-7044, or request your free case evaluation.

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