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On March 13, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court struck the portion of Florida’s medical malpractice law (Sect. 766.118, Fla. Stat.) which placed a cap on noneconomic damages when someone dies because of medical malpractice. The cap had limited payments for pain and suffering to $500,000 or $1 million, depending on the circumstances, regardless of the number of damaged claimants. The holding is limited to wrongful death cases.

The Court concluded that the cap violated Florida’s Equal Protection Clause by essentially discriminating against injured parties in favor of medical malpractice defendants: “[t]he statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages fails because it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants.  In such circumstances, medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same rights to full compensation because of arbitrarily diminished compensation for legally cognizable claims. Further, the statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages does not bear a rational relationship to the stated purpose that the cap is purported to address, the alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.”

The Equal Protection violation stemmed specifically from the situation where an act of negligence gave rise to multiple claimants, who then would have been forced to share in the capped damages award.

Justice R. Fred Lewis authored the unusually politically charged majority opinion. In it, he suggested that legislators created a crisis to push through the caps on damages in medical liability lawsuits: “Thus, the finding by the [2003] Legislature and the Task Force that Florida was in the midst of a bona fide medical malpractice crisis, threatening the access of Floridians to health care, is dubious and questionable at the very best.”

It seems likely the Republican-led Florida legislature will move to address the holding in the current legislative session or the next.

Click here to read the entire opinion.

Contact rcooper rrodriguez for more information.