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Malpractice Damage Caps Hurt Victims

The Florida State Supreme Court recently ruled a law that limited pain and suffering damages is unconstitutional. The ruling rejects a change made under then-governor Jeb Bush in 2003 that put a cap on pain and suffering damage awards in cases of medical malpractice.

The ruling divided the state Supreme Court Justices with four justices finding the caps to be a violation of equal-protection rights. The majority also rejected the premise there is a malpractice insurance crisis.

According to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Jewis, and Peggy Quince, “… caps on noneconomic damages … arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries,” and further concluded “…that because there is no evidence of a continuing medical malpractice insurance crisis justifying the arbitrary and invidious discrimination between medical malpractice victims, there is no rational relationship between the personal injury noneconomic damage caps … and alleviating this purported crisis.’’

Dissenting justices Ricky Polston, Charles Canady, and Alan Lawson argued the majority opinion overstepped its role and ignored “… all of the Legislature’s work and fact-finding.”

Plaintiff’s Lawyers: “Caps Hurt Victims of Medical Malpractice”

The cap was originally put in place in 2003 after months of debate over Florida’s medical malpractice system. At that time, doctors described a crisis of high insurance premiums, but plaintiff’s lawyers claimed there was no crisis and opposed damage limits because they would hurt victims of medical malpractice. Governor Bush ultimately signed a law that based caps on factors such as the number of claimants in a suit and the types of defendants.

This most recent ruling by the Supreme Court stemmed from a Broward County medical malpractice lawsuit filed by Susan Kalitan after she underwent surgery in 2007 for carpal tunnel syndrome. Kalitan sustained a perforated esophagus because of the tubes used during the surgery. She filed a lawsuit against the North Broward Hospital District and others, and was awarded $4 million in non-economic damages, which was later reduced to $2 million because of the caps.

Despite Florida’s recent Supreme Court ruling, many states have these caps in place. Working people and middle class people are voting for politicians who enact these caps, so they should not complaint. Many people who come to us with an injury or death case will complain about caps on damages or arbitration clauses that force them into arbitration of their case with corporate arbitrators. However, often when we ask them if they previously supported damage caps, they tell us that they did.

This Florida decision is an interesting one. Read it and let us know what you think.

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