It’s time for my somewhat regular update regarding the latest state to address the constitutionality of caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Previously, I have discussed Kansas and Missouri and their judicial treatment of such caps.
In its recent decision, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the state’s statutory cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases as violating the Equal Protection Clause of Florida’s Constitution. In a blistering opinion, the court in McCall v. U.S., No. SC11-1148 (Fl. 2014), decried the creation of an “alleged medical malpractice crisis.”
The court explained that the cap on non-economic damages (pain, suffering, distress, etc.) failed because it imposes an unfair burden on injured parties when there are multiple claimants (the case involved the birth of a healthy child and the death of the mother due to excessive blood loss). In such a situation, the court found, medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same rights to full compensation as do other claimants in different types of lawsuits.
How was the statute described?
– inherently discriminatory
– invidious discrimination
– exacting an irrational and unreasonable cost.
Critical to the court’s analysis was that the damages suffered by the children’s parents were determined to be $750,000 each, and the surviving son sustained damages determined to be $500,000. Applying the cap, the federal court then reduced the amounts of damages so each claimant would receive only half of his or her respective damages. In other words, if the mother had been survived only by her son, he would have recovered the full amount of his noneconomic damages: $500,000. Here, the cap limited the recovery of a surviving child (and surviving parents) simply because others also suffered losses.
As my prior article noted, this is not the first Court to so rule. Stay tuned for further updates on how other states address this issue and whether they are as harsh as Florida.
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