Florida Supreme Court rules that cap on non-economic damages in Medical Malpractice (wrongful death) cases violates the Florida Constitution
(Tallahasse, March 13, 2014) Nearly two years after hearing oral arguments, the Florida Supreme Court reversed caps enacted in2003. In a 5-2 opinion, Justice R. Fred Lewis wrote that the subject non-economic damages cap under Florida Statute 766.118 did not bear a rational relationship to an “alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis inFlorida.” With respect to the limitations, Justice Lewis wrote that the intent of the legislature at the time to appease a threat of access to health care, “is dubious and questionable at the very best.”
The court was specifically responding to certified questions stemming from an appeal by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a medical malpractice suit against the federal government. According to the allegations in the underlying suit, Michelle McCall, 20, died in 2006 after treatment by Air Force doctors during the birth of her son. The lawsuit was brought by the estate of Ms. McCall. The award was $2 million in noneconomic damages. However, that amount was later reduced by the trial court to $1 million under Florida Statute 766.118. The now un-constitutional law limits non-economic damages in med-mal wrongful death cases to $500,000 per claimant but the total award in aggregate is capped at $1,000,000.
According to Justice Lewis, “the greater the number of survivors and the more devastating their losses are, the less likely they are to be fully compensated for those losses.”