In a landmark decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled to strike down medical malpractice damages caps that have been in place statewide since 2003. According to the Court’s majority opinion, the Justices found capping non-economic damages was unconstitutional because they were implemented arbitrarily and unfairly infringed upon the rights of victims who suffer the most serious injuries as a result of medical negligence and substandard care. Justices also commended on the fact that there is no definitive evidence the caps reduced malpractice insurance premiums as lawmakers claimed they would.
The ruling stems from a case in which a Broward County woman was seriously injured as a result of an anesthesia error. Although she complained of severe pain, she was sent home by medical professionals who failed to identify her injuries. She was discovered unconscious in her home the following day, and was rushed to the hospital for life-saving surgery. Following a drug-induced coma that lasted several weeks, she was required to undergo several additional surgeries and intensive therapy in order to eat and drink on her own. She continues to experience emotional and mental anguish, pain, and limitations to her daily life.
Although she was awarded $4 million for her pain and suffering by a Broward County jury, her non-economic damages were reduced by over $3 million due to the damages caps and another law that limits liability for government-run hospitals. By declaring the caps unconstitutional, the woman is now entitled to the full amount of damages awarded by jury, and other victims in Florida will also be able to pursue the full value of their non-economic damages moving forward.
Although the decision applies only to Florida, it is a significant victory for victims’ rights, and one that will hopefully lead the way in refuting unfair damages caps in civil personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Tort reform efforts have been hotly debated over the past several years, and many have focused on capping the amount of non-economic damages victims are able to recover.
This includes one bill (HR 1215), which was recently narrowly passed by the US House of Representatives, which would place a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, if passed by the Senate, and signed by the President. (That bill is inappropriately named “Protecting Access to Care Act”). Non-economic damages are intangible losses resulting from injuries, and often include pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of support or companionship, and other emotional injuries suffered by both victims and their loved ones. In many cases, the emotional toll of serious injuries is profound, especially in cases where victims suffer life-altering harm, disabilities, and impairment, or when families endure the ultimate loss of a loved one due to another’s negligence.
Most Americans may be against medical malpractice caps, but it has been a tough fight to push back against the special interests groups that work to pass laws in their favor. In several recent posts, we have discussed the latest tort reform efforts and how they aim to slash victims’ rights. These efforts would also strip citizen-comprised juries of decision-making power and place that power in the hands of politicians, insurance companies, and corporate powers that have financial interests in limiting the amount of compensation victims are paid. Ultimately, damages caps are motivated by corporations that place profits over people.
As a Washington, DC-based personal injury law firm that has spent more than 45 years fighting on behalf of local men, women, and families after they were harmed due to negligence, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. values the importance of our civil justice system. It is the venue in which the everyday citizen can make their voice heard, even when they face off against corporations and insurance providers that have mountains of money on their side. Over the years, we have helped guide clients throughout the region through the civil personal injury process, and have recovered hundreds of millions on their behalves.
If you are interested in learning more about tort reform, damages caps, and how you can become involved to protect your rights and the rights of victims, we encourage you to visit www.takejusticeback.com. Our legal team is also readily available to help victims learn more about pursuing medical malpractice and personal injury claims during a free consultation. Contact us to speak with a member of our legal team.