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Florida has become the seventh state to declare medical malpractice award limits unconstitutional.  The decision was spurred by a 2011 medical malpractice lawsuit in which a 20-year-old woman died while being treated by a U.S. Air Force doctor at Fort Walton BeachMedicalCenter.  The suit was filed against the federal government and alleged that Michelle McCall bled to death following a cesarean section for the birth of her son in February 2006.  A jury awarded her family $2 million in non-economic damages, but because of statutory caps enacted in 2003, the award was reduced to $1 million. An appeal, failed at the federal level, but the U.S. District Court in Atlanta requested that Florida’s Supreme Court review the case for constitutional issues.  This led to more than two years of review by the courts, but justice was finally served.

In the 5-2 decision, the court said “the caps on non-economic damages serve no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members” and it violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause. The Court also rejected the damage awards as arbitrary and unfair, blaming the Legislature for creating an “alleged medical malpractice crisis.”

The damage caps in Florida were initially pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, with the support of doctors, hospitals and insurance companies who viewed trials lawyers as their political nemesis. They argued that reforms were needed to curb the “explosion of medical malpractice costs,” which they said were forcing doctors to leave Florida or stop providing high-risk services. Contrary to what tort reformers wanted you to believe, there is no evidence that these “reforms” have had the intended effect – malpractice insurance premiums are dictated by how well insurance companies are doing in the stock market, not by how much they pay out in claims.  The Florida Supreme Court even cited statistics demonstrating that, during the purported medical malpractice crisis, the numbers of physicians in Florida were actually increasing, not decreasing.

When a jury verdict is arbitrarily capped, plaintiffs do not receive the constitutional benefit of trial by a jury. If a jury awards $2 million in non-economic damages, but can only recover $1 million due to an arbitrary cap, the victim has not received constitutional redress for his/her injuries.  Since every case is different, how can a “one-price-fits-all” system be fair?  Victims deserve consideration of their case – their own injuries, their own pain and suffering, their own medical expenses.  The consequences to one are not the same as the consequences to another. Further caps prevent wrongdoers from learning from their mistakes; restrictions on recoveries encourage repetitive misconduct.  These calculations belong to one body and one body only: to the jury.

This case is yet another example of the injustice of arbitrary caps. Damage caps cause serious injury to our civil justice system in an effort to maximize profits for the insurance companies and large corporations. The connection between health care costs and malpractice cases is nebulous, at best. Medical malpractice lawsuits are not the reason for increased healthcare costs and medical malpractice victims.  The best way to reduce malpractice premiums will always be by reducing incidents of malpractice.  And, the fairest way for a victim of medical negligence to seek justice is a trial by jury, in front of an impartial judge.

The ruling is a victory for fair-minded citizens who want to put decisions back in the hands of those who hear the facts, circumstances, and evidence of each case, and give careful consideration to what they hear, before determining justice, whether it is determined to be $10, $2 million, or no cause of action.

Although the ruling doesn’t address caps in malpractice cases where the patient doesn’t die, it is step in the right direction.  Considering the Courts mention of the United States Constitution Equal Protection Clause, it stands to reason that the discussion will, and should, eventually apply to injuries, as well as deaths.  Lawsuit Financial, the pro-justice lawsuit funding company, congratulates the Florida Supreme Court for its courageous decision in support of justice for Florida citizens.


  1. Gravatar for jc

    I strongly support caps on pain and suffering damages. Today, about half the states have caps on pain and suffering damages. The reason these caps are necessary is that these damages are subjective, nobody can tell me what $50,000 pain and suffering damages looks like vs $350,000. A great actor will get more than a stoic individual. These caps greatly reduce the medical malpractice premiums which doctors pay, which decreases the cost of medical care for everyone. Finally, legislatures routinely put caps on various pieces of civil litigation. Can't sue the brokers because that would harm Wall Street and our ability to raise money for companies--gotta go to arbitration. Lights go out, can't sue the power company, gotta go to the Public Utilities Commission and make a complaint. So why not put this restriction on malpractice litigation?

  2. Gravatar for Mark Bello

    Losing money and or having the lights go off pales in comparison to a lifetime of serious pain, total disability, losing the ability to move, speak, tend to your own needs. I honestly don't know what's fair, but I certainly know what's not fair and that is a system that benefits insurance companies at the expense of victims. Doc: You should be demanding accountability from your insurance company and asking for concrete evidence of the relationship between malpractice payouts and rates. You consistently argue that you have little or no history of malpractice in your career. So, why are your rates so high? You should be find insurance company blog posts, hammering insurance underwriters and demanding answers, not trying to restrict the recoveries of seriously injured and disable victims.

  3. Gravatar for jc

    Mark's "malpractice insurance companies" are the fault are the common theme of plaintiff attorneys and politicians. The fact of the matter is that Texas has a much better legal malpractice enviornment than Ohio. So the rates there are one third of the rates in Ohio. In Ohio, I got sued for 6 years because of a typographical mistake which I was not responsible for. In Texas that case would be thrown out of court quickly. In Texas a ridiculous case like that would cause sanctions against the plaintiff lawyer. In Ohio, Judge Jeff Reed refused to allow sanctions. That is a major reason rates are lower in Texas than in Ohio.

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