Florida’s Supreme Court recently issued a ruling declaring the state’s law imposing a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice claims to be unconstitutional. The law, which was passed in 2003 in an effort to rein in the costs of medical malpractice in the state’s healthcare system, put a cap of $1 million on non-economic damages for a medical malpractice claim resulting in a patient’s death, as well as a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice claims that did not result in death.
In 2006, a woman at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center passed away during child birth as a result of medical malpractice, and a jury awarded the family $2 million in damages for their pain and suffering. However, Florida’s cap on malpractice claims reduced this amount to $1 million, which was divided between the woman’s parents and her husband.
According to the Florida Supreme Court, caps on damages in these circumstances are not acceptable under Florida’s constitution because they violate the Equal Protection Clause by reducing the amount of compensation that multiple claimants can receive for wrongful death claims. In this case, for instance, the total damages that a single individual would have been able to recover ($1 million) had to be divided between the woman’s husband and her parents, depriving them of the full amount of compensation to which they were entitled.
While the decision only affects a limited number of cases, it is part of a growing trend of states rejecting some of the logic behind medical malpractice damage caps. Courts in other states, including Illinois, Alabama, and Washington, have also found aspects of caps on non-economic damages to be unconstitutional under state law, helping to allow victims of medical malpractice to enjoy a fuller degree of access to the justice they deserve.
Medical malpractice is a serious problem in the United States. As acknowledged by the website for the Disparti Law Group, a law firm based in Chicago, medical malpractice can occur in a wide variety of ways, and the results it can have for patients, including wrongful death in the worst of circumstances, can be devastating. While the idea of caps on medical malpractice claims can be attractive in theory, the truth is that they often can place an unfair hardship on individuals and families whose lives have been destroyed by the effects of medical malpractice. Decisions such as the Florida Supreme Court’s are therefore useful in helping to alleviate at least some of the challenges that malpractice victims and their loved ones may face.