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Caps on Medical Malpractice Non-Economic Damages in Florida

From 2003 until recently, non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases in Florida were capped. However, the Florida Supreme Court eventually ruled such caps unconstitutional. What does this mean for a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit? An Orlando medical malpractice lawyer or Fort Lauderdale medical malpractice attorney at Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm may be able to help you understand the compensation to which you may be entitled.

Legal Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases

There are several types of legal damages. In Florida, in medical malpractice cases, there are economic damages, non-economic damages, and sometimes even punitive damages. Economic damages, which are sometimes called compensatory damages, include medical expenses in the past and future, the cost of rehabilitation, lost wages, the loss of future earnings, and compensation for similar items. 

Non-economic damages are more subjective and therefore more difficult to measure. These include pain and suffering, mental anguish, disability or disfigurement, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Why Were Non-Economic Damages Limited in Florida

In 2003, the Florida legislature enacted a law that limited the amount of non-economic damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits. This was in large part driven by the nationwide malpractice insurance crisis. State lawmakers believed the malpractice insurance crisis arose from increased malpractice claims and awards, which put pressure on insurance companies to increase medical liability insurance premiums for doctors and hospitals and other healthcare providers. As a result, these high premiums led many practitioners to stop buying liability insurance or closing their medical practices in Florida. The result was reduced access to care for patients.

The caps imposed in 2003 were designed to limit what a medical malpractice plaintiff could recover from each category of defendant, as follows:

If the medical malpractice case was against a practitioner (i.e., a doctor, nurse, or medical technician), there was a $500,000 damages cap per claimant. This cap was increased to $1 million, regardless of the number of claimants, in certain other limited situations, like when there was a “catastrophic” injury.

If the defendant was a non-practitioner, such as a hospital or healthcare facility, the non-economic damages cap was $750,000. This cap increased to $1.5 million, regardless of the number of claimants in certain other limited situations.

Violation of Florida’s Equal Protection Clause

In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court determined that non-economic damage caps in wrongful death cases violated equal protection under the Florida Constitution. There, the jury awarded $2 million in non-economic damages to the family of a patient who died shortly after giving birth. However, because of the law requiring those damages to be capped, the award was reduced.  In this landmark decision Estate of McCall v. United States, the Florida Supreme Court found that the cap “imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants,” thus violating the state’s equal protection clause. In addition, the ruling held that in medical malpractice cases with more than one claimant, the “medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same rights to full compensation because of arbitrarily diminished compensation for legally cognizable claims.”

In another case where the plaintiff was alive but suffered catastrophic injuries during surgery, the Florida Supreme Court followed suit. In this case, North Broward Hospital District v. Susan Kalitan, the jury awarded the patient $4 million in non-economic damages. Again, because of the statutory caps, the award was reduced. The appellate court disagreed with the trial judge and reinstated the award, and the case was then heard by the Florida Supreme Court. The court held that the non-economic caps were also unconstitutional in personal injury cases, just like they were unconstitutional in the wrongful death context. 

Statutory caps on non-economic damages do still continue to be applied in cases where defendants do not challenge liability and agree to arbitrate over the issue of damages.

Contact an Orlando Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

For the time being, limits on non-economic damages only apply in very specific circumstances in a medical malpractice case. But that could change if the legislature decides to enact new laws in this area. If you believe you have a medical malpractice cause of action, don’t delay — contact us today.