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Medical Malpractice Damage Caps — A Balance of Justice

07/6/2015
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In a recent landmark decision for the citizens in the State of Florida, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals, the appellate court for Palm Beach, Broward, and the counties to their north, issued an opinion finding the application of noneconomic damage caps in medical malpractice cases unconstitutional. This ruling is a resounding triumph for individuals injured by the negligence of their healthcare providers, as they should no longer face arbitrary limits on how much they can recover for their limitless pain and suffering.

Florida’s medical malpractice caps are rooted in the enactment of Florida Statute 766.118 in 2003. The Legislature justified restricting the rights of injured victims by claiming that that our State was “in the midst of a medical malpractice insurance crisis of unprecedented magnitude.” This language and other claims that insurance premiums had caused physicians to leave Florida, retire early, or refuse to perform certain procedures, were cited and dismissed as baseless by the Florida Supreme Court in McCall v. United States of America last year. In McCall, however, the Court only held that noneconomic damage caps were unconstitutional in wrongful death cases. The opinion issued by the Fourth DCA yesterday takes the next step.

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The case, styled as North Broward Hospital District, et. al. v. Kalitan, involved a woman who nearly died and suffered extreme pain and loss of independence after her esophagus was perforated during intubation for administration of anesthesia. A jury verdict of $4 million in noneconomic damages was then reduced by nearly $2 million because of the caps, and then further reduced because the hospital was a sovereign immune entity.

In finding that the same constitutional logic applied in McCall must apply to personal injury cases and not be limited to only wrongful death cases, the Fourth DCA stated that they were “compelled to conclude that section 766.118 presently lacks a rational and reasonable relation to any state objective.” Parroting the Supreme Court, they found that the “insurance crisis” doesn’t exist, and the statute bears no relationship to a reduction in malpractice premiums.

With that they reinstated the verdict awarded Susan Kalitan for her total damages, and issued an opinion that was a significant success not just for one injured victim but for many.

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