September 18th, 2012 9:15am
Karl Rove’s vision of tort reform may be coming to the state of Florida.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has recently certified significant questions to the Florida Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of damage caps in medical malpractice cases in Florida. The caps, enacted by the Florida Legislature in 2003, limit the amount of non-economic damages, such as mental pain and suffering for example, that can be recovered by injured patients and their families in lawsuits against their healthcare providers.
Proponents of the caps contend they are necessary to combat what they consider to be an ongoing medical malpractice crisis in the state, which they believe leads to increased healthcare costs and insurance premiums for healthcare providers. However, many others question whether the Florida Legislature has overreached its authority by limiting a jury’s duty and responsibility to determine non-economic damages after listening to and weighing the specific set of facts and circumstances presented as evidence by both the plaintiff and the defendant during trial. These opponents to the caps question how the Florida Legislature can justify limiting an injured patient’s recovery for non-economic damages based solely upon the method of injury; i.e. how can you tell a mother who has just lost her only child due to the negligence of her health care providers, that her mental pain and suffering is somehow less than that of a mother who has just lost her only child but rather in car accident due to the negligence of a careless driver? It would seem one would have a difficult time providing a reasonable answer to that question.
The Florida High Court will soon decide this issue, and others, in the case of McCall v. U.S., wherein a $2 million non-economic damages award was reduced to $1 million based upon Florida’s medical malpractice damage caps. Specifically, the Court must decide whether the caps found in section 766.118 of the Florida Statutes violate various rights/provisions of the Florida Constitution, such as: 1) equal protection, 2) a person’s right to access the courts, 3) a person’s right to trial by jury, and 4) separation of powers.
In McCall, a mother wrongfully died while giving birth to her child when her healthcare providers’ failed to reasonably monitor her vital signs. Make no mistake, the ability of Florida’s injured patients to receive full and just compensation for their injuries hangs in the balance of this landmark decision.
More on Medical Malpractice.
Cameron Stephenson is a lawyer with the Levin, Papantonio law firm in Pensacola, Florida, and handles medical malpractice and other wrongful death cases. He has devoted his legal practice to fighting for the rights of Florida’s injured patients.