Until recently, the limit on the damages plaintiffs could recover for pain and suffering in medical malpractice wrongful death cases in Florida was either $500,000 or $1 million, depending on the circumstances of the case and the number of survivors involved. In March 2014, however, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the $1 million cap on damages, declaring it unconstitutional, per information in the Miami Herald.
Florida’s Medical Malpractice Law Overhauled
The cap was part of the 2003 overhaul of Florida’s medical malpractice law. The legislation had its critics at the time, but proponents of the overhaul—namely, the legislature, insurance companies, doctors and hospitals—cited a supposed medical malpractice crisis and argued that the reform was necessary to help reduce medical malpractice costs and medical malpractice premiums.
In the case of McCall v. United States, however, the Florida Supreme Court not only declared the damage cap unconstitutional but also rejected the rationale of its proponents.
The case was brought by the family of Michelle McCall, who had bled to death following a cesarean section at a hospital in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. A federal judge found that McCall had not received proper care by U.S. Air Force medical staff and awarded her family $2 million in noneconomic damages. Due to the cap on damages, however, the amount of the award was reduced to $1 million. The appeals court ruled that the cap on damages did not violate the U.S. Constitution and determined that McCall’s parents suffered $750,000 each in damages and that her surviving son suffered $500,000 in damages. When the court applied the cap, however, it cut the damage amounts in half.
The case made its way to the Florida Supreme Court, which, in a 5-2 decision,ruled that the 2003 law that imposed the cap violated the equal protection clause of the state’s constitution and that the damage cap bore no rational relationship to any legitimate state objective. Further, the court disputed the existence of the alleged medical malpractice crisis that was the ostensible rationale for the cap on damages and used empirical research to challenge the theory that damage caps lead to lower medical costs.
Though the case does not establish formal precedent for any other state, the impact of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision is expected to reach far beyond Florida. Other states with damage caps could begin to see similar challenges, and the Florida Supreme Court’s rationale could influence the analysis of other courts in future cases.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney in Florida
Plaintiffs in Florida whose cases were resolved between the 2003 overhaul of medical malpractice law and the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in McCall v. United States will unfortunately have no recourse, as the ruling is not retroactive. Going forward, however, the decision has effectively removed the cap on damages for pain and suffering—or noneconomic damages—when someone dies as a result of medical malpractice in the state of Florida. According to the Florida Justice Association, more than 700 medical malpractice cases are pending statewide, and that number will likely increase in the future as a result of this ruling. Contact Tampa area law firm Reed & Reed who are experienced medical malpractice attorneys for more information.