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The Florida Cap on Medical Malpractice Damages

The Florida Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case challenging the state's cap on damages for medical malpractice. Enacted by the state legislature in 2003, the law caps non-economic damages for medical malpractice liability at $500,000 in most cases and $1 million in those involving catastrophic injury or death. Caps in cases involving emergency medical services are set at $150,000 and $300,000, respectively. Caps are higher, at $750,000 and $1.5 million, when injury results from the negligence of parties that are not licensed health care providers. The damage caps target non-economic damages, namely pain and suffering and punitive damages, and do not impact compensation for medical costs to injured parties.

In the case challenging the law, Evette McCall v. United States of America SC11-1145, the argument was over whether the law was unconstitutional because it limited access to the courts. Lawyers for the estate of Michelle McCall argued that the law was unconstitutional because it denied access by McCall's estate to the jury award of $2 million for McCall's pain and suffering. McCall died in 2006 shortly after giving birth to a child in 2006 due to blood loss. A judge reduced the award to the law's $1 million cap.

Intended to address problems in the insurance market for medical malpractice, the law also mandated reduced malpractice insurance rates. McCall's lawyers argued that her case had nothing to do with this goal. Further, since the insurance market was now stable, they argued that restrictions on the rights of victims of medical malpractice were no longer warranted. Under Florida law, the damages cap is constitutional only so long as there is an "overwhelming public necessity" that permits the restriction.

The court's decision will have a major impact on victims' ability to receive compensation for pain and suffering for injuries caused by the negligence of hospitals and medical practitioners. If the court finds the law unconstitutional, plaintiffs suffering from life-altering injuries would receive compensation consistent with a jury's findings.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Florida Supreme Court to Decide on Medical Malpractice Caps," by Michael Adams, 2 April 2012

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