LAKELAND -- A second appeals court has declared that limits can't be placed on the amount of money awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits and that setting such limits is unconstitutional.
The strong, identical opinions reached by two different district courts of appeal strongly suggests that medical malpractice caps in Florida are unlikely to find judicial shelter.
The 2nd District Court in Charlotte County cited an earlier case in the 4th District court that found such monetary caps unconstitutional in both wrongful death actions and in personal injury suits.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush formed the initial damage caps in 2003 in response to doctors' claims of rising insurance costs from medical malpractice lawsuits. The rising insurance costs were allegedly driving doctors out of Florida. The initial cap was set at $500,000 for pain and suffering and at $1 million if the victim died or was left in a permanent vegetative state. The issue was whether these limits are constitutional.
“Both cases hone to the 2014 decision rendered by the Florida Supreme Court in McCall, which found that even if there was a medical malpractice 'crisis' when the caps were enacted, there is no longer a crisis, and therefore, no longer a rational basis for the caps,” Kenneth J. Sobel of Sobel Legal and a past chairman of the FJA’s Medical Malpractice Bar, told the Florida Record.
That 2014 case centered around Michelle McCall who died of complications after experiencing severe bleeding during childbirth in a Florida hospital. The basis of the 2016 case involved Iala Suarez who claimed she didn't receive proper medical care both during her pregnancy and afterward at Peace River Regional Medical Center in Port Charlotte in 2010, causing her daughter K.D.P. to suffer medical issues and become fully dependent on others for the rest of her life.
The Suarez and McCall cases set precedence for the courts saying that the cap violates Florida’s Constitution Equal Protection Clause (EPC) that assures all people will be treated the same by their government under the law. The cap allowed some to get full compensation if their suit was under the amount and others not to get full compensation if their suit was over the amount. The Oct. 26 ruling in the 2nd District from a three-judge panel found that caps are unconstitutional in both wrongful death and personal injury suits because they violate equal protection.
“The Suarez opinion from the 2nd District Court of Appeal echoes the opinion reached by the Fourth DCA in Kalitan, finding that the arbitrary caps on medical malpractice damages violate the Florida Constitution’s equal protection guarantees,” Sobel said.
Suarez was originally awarded a total $9,637,134, which was later reduced to $6.7 million. Many attorneys across Florida applaud the ruling, saying that the caps have unfairly punished victims of malpractice with larger families and their surviving family members. In 2015, the Supreme Court decided that “legal analyses for personal injury damages and wrongful death damages are not the same.”
“The strong, identical opinions reached by two different district courts of appeal suggests that medical malpractice caps in Florida are unlikely to find judicial shelter," Sobel said. "One might expect a similar decision when the medical malpractice arbitration statute gets reviewed in our appellate courts.”