Florida Supreme Court Tosses out Medical Malpractice Cap on Damages
On Thursday, March 13, 2014, the Florida Supreme court, in a 5-2 ruling, threw out the heart of the 2003 medical malpractice overhaul law which limited noneconomic damages in medical professional liability lawsuits. The court maintained that the cap violated the state’s Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The ruling, which was written by Justice R. Fred Lewis, said that the legislators created an ”alleged medical malpractice crisis” to jam through the caps on damages. The effect of this legislation, according the Justice Lewis, was to save “a modest amount for many by imposing devastating costs on a few.”
The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed the law during a special session called by then Governor Jeb Bush, with the support of Florida doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies, who supported the caps in an attempt to reduce exploding medical malpractice insurance premiums and keep physicians from limiting their medical practices or moving out of the State of Florida. The legislation limited payments for pain and suffering to $500,000 or $1 million, depending on the circumstances of the case. Lewis concluded that the law unconstitutionally discriminates against “those who are most grievously injured, those who sustain the greatest damage and loss, and multiple claimants.” Trial attorneys complained that the law was unfair because a person injured because of medical malpractice was treated differently under the law than someone injured because of another kind or wrongful act or negligence.
Thirty-five states have some type of cap on medical malpractice awards, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Florida Medical Association countered that the damage caps have helped reduce medical malpractice insurance premiums and that the ruling would harm the economy of the state in its ability to attract doctors.
It is uncertain whether another damage cap could pass this session.