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Florida Supreme Court Throws O...

Florida Supreme Court Throws Out Caps in Personal Injury Medical Malpractice Cases

The Supreme Court of Florida has thrown out the statutory caps on non-economic damages in personal injury medical malpractice cases.  In a landmark decision, North Broward Hosp. Dist. V. Kalitan, the Supreme Court of Florida continued its trend of ruling that caps on damages are unconstitutional, following its prior ruling in McCall v. United States that non-economic damages in wrongful death medical malpractices cases violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.

Before reaching the Florida Supreme Court, the Kalitan case went to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which considered whether section 766.118, Florida Statutes, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution in the personal injury medical malpractice context.  In ruling that section 766.118 was invalid in personal injury medical malpractice cases, the Fourth District Court of Appeal analyzed the McCall decision, and found that the caps were just as arbitrary and lacking in legitimate government interest in personal injury cases as they were in the wrongful death context.  The Florida Supreme Court agreed with the Fourth District and affirmed its decision that the caps on non-economic damages in personal injury medical malpractices actions are unconstitutional.

The caps that were in place under section 766.118 limited the amount of money an injured party could recover for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.  The caps limited the amount to $500,000 per claimant, regardless of the number of defendants, meaning that the plaintiff in a personal injury medical malpractice could recover a maximum of $500,000 for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life.  There were exceptions and higher limits in cases involving a permanent vegetative state or catastrophic injury, and higher caps for nonpractitioner defendants such as hospitals.

The effect of the caps being in place meant that recoveries were significantly limited for injured plaintiffs in personal injury medical malpractices cases.  The limitations made it impractical in many cases for plaintiffs’ attorneys to accept representation of injured plaintiffs.

The Florida Supreme Court extended its rationale from the McCall decision that statutory caps imposed “unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties” and did not bear a rational relationship to the stated purpose that the caps were in place to address the “alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.”  Previously in McCall, the Supreme Court held that the Florida Legislature’s purported justification for enacting the statutory caps, which was to “reduce instances of doctors leaving Florida, retiring early, or refusing to perform high risk procedures” because of high liability insurance premiums, lacked sufficient data and instead resulted in “an increase in income for insurance companies.”  The Kalitan Court held “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 in section 766.118 and alleviating this purported crisis.”

In ruling that the caps were unconstitutional in the personal injury medical malpractice context, the Florida Supreme Court essentially found (for the second time) that the Florida Legislature based the caps on a fictional insurance crisis to increase profits for insurance companies.

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