Florida Supreme Court to Weigh Medical Malpractice Damage Caps

The Florida Supreme Court has agreed this summer to hear an appeal on an appellate decision finding medical malpractice non-economic damage caps unconstitutional. hospital2

If that sounds a bit familiar, you may be recalling the 2014 case of Estate of McCall v. U.S., in which the state high court ruled that limits on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases arising from act of medical negligence was unconstitutional.

Now in North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, the question is whether this also applies to personal injury cases arising from acts of medical negligence. If the court affirms the appellate court, as many legal scholars speculate it will, it would be a huge victory for victims of medical malpractice in Florida. It will mean they can receive the full amount awarded by a jury – the amount to which they are entitled – instead of being blocked by an arbitrary cap on damages. 

Prior to the McCall case, all Florida medical malpractice cases had a $500,000 per claimant and per-claim limit on non-economic damages and no practitioner could be held liable for more than $500,000 in economic damages, regardless of how many claimants there were.

To provide a little history, these damage caps were first set in place by the state legislature amid heavy lobbying from the insurance and health care industries. The argument as that these caps were needed to keep health care costs down. But the state supreme court in McCall ruled the cap violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution. Beyond that, the court found that the Florida Legislature’s conclusion as to the existence of a medical malpractice insurance premium crisis at the time of the measure’s passage was “not fully supported by available data.”

But now the question in Kalitan is whether this standard should also apply to victims seeking compensation for injuries, and not just deaths.

According to court records, plaintiff underwent carpal tunnel surgery at defendant hospital in 2007. During the surgery, patient suffered an esophagus perforation, due to negligence by health care workers.

She was released from the hospital and dropped off by a friend. Later, that same friend stopped by her home to check on her – and found her non-responsive on the floor. Patient was transported via emergency vehicle to another hospital, where her esophagus was repaired. She was placed in a medically-induced coma for weeks and ultimately survived.

She later filed a lawsuit against the hospital and the anesthesiology team responsible for the intubation, as well as the company that employed that team.

The case went to trial and jurors concluded plaintiff suffered a catastrophic injury (as she had suffered a severe brain/ closed head injury) as a result of defendants’ negligence. She was awarded $4.7 million in damages, which included $4 million for previous and future pain and suffering (which are non-economic damages). The court later reduced this amount according to the state damage caps, as well as the law pertaining to sovereign entities.

Both sides appealed the order. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part. Justices ordered the trial court to reinstate the damage award, finding it was unconstitional and further that to do so would conflict with McCall. However, it did find that damages might be reduced based on sovereign immunity statutes.

The case was then appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which has accepted review. The Attorney General, the Florida Justice Reform Institute and the Florida Hospital Association, Inc. have filed amicus curiae briefs with the court.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Supreme Court: Malpractice Caps Arguments Set, March 22, 2016, News Service of Florida

More Blog Entries:

University of Miami v. Ruiz – Birth Injury Vicarious Liability, Jan. 7, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Medical Malpractice Attorney Blog