Florida consumers of medical services won a milestone victory last week when the Florida Supreme Court decided that caps on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases are unconstitutional.
In Estate of Michelle Evette McCall v. United States (SC11-1148), the court said, “The statutory cap on wrongful death non-economic damages [pain and suffering] fails because it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants.”
The caps had previously limited non-economic damages in these cases to between $500,000 and $1 million, depending on the situation and the number of survivors involved. Those limits severely restricted the ability of plaintiffs to obtain fair compensation for horrific injuries from catastrophic errors committed by medical professionals.
Our law firm has continued to represent victims of medical malpractice since the Legislature imposed an array of damage caps and other restrictions in 2003. Although it certainly affected the compensation our clients were entitled to recover, it never affected our resolve to continue to help these victims. We have always believed that any victim of medical negligence should have an absolute right to competent representation and full compensation.
The Supreme Court ruled in its 5-2 decision that the Legislature overstated its case for limiting damage awards by concluding that Florida faced a medical malpractice insurance crisis that was forcing doctors to leave the state. Our firm has always believed that the alleged crisis was manufactured by the insurance industry and their lobbyists to line their pockets at the expense of those who have been catastrophically injured.
While the ruling is a positive development for consumers, going forward keep in mind that:
· The McCall case specifically involved wrongful death. While the Florida Supreme Court did not specifically answer the question as to limitations on non wrongful death cases because it was not presented, we believe that the logic of McCall is directly applicable to medical malpractice cases that do not result in death. We expect Florida trial courts to directly apply its holding in those cases.
· Lawmakers may seek to “fix” the portion of the statute ruled unconstitutional during the current, or a future, legislative session. Time constraints dictated by this session’s short duration may reduce the chances of that happening. We also hope that future legislatures will be mindful of the Supreme Court’s ruling and avoid restricting patients’ rights under the Florida Constitution.
Overall, this is a tremendous victory for the integrity of our judicial system and its guarantee of justice for all.