Damage Caps in Wrongful Death MedMal Cases Unconstitutional, Says Florida Supreme Court By Tod Aronovitz | 03/14/14 | 0 Comment

Yesterday the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a 2003 law placing caps on damages in wrongful death medical-malpractice lawsuits violates the State Constitution.  In a 5-2 ruling, the Court held that the law bears no rational relationship to a legitimate state interest and is therefore unconstitutional.

The law containing the damage cap was passed during a 2003 special session of the Legislature.  Then-governor Jeb Bush, with the support of doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies, had argued that reforms were needed to lower malpractice insurance costs and to prevent the flight of physicians from the state.

The case had been brought by the family members of 20-year-old Michelle McCall, who died from severe loss of blood following childbirth. Because McCall had been treated by Air Force medical staff, the case was brought in federal court. A federal judge in the case found that McCall had not received proper care and that her parents and son should receive a combined $2 million in noneconomic damages–$750,000 to each of the parents, and $500,000 to McCall’s son.

The award, however, was reduced to $1 million because of the cap contained in the 2003 law.  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the damage limits did not violate the U.S. Constitution, but said that the Florida Supreme Court should consider state constitutional issues.

The Court, in an opinion written by Justice R. Fred Lewis, rejected the legislature’s reasoning. “No rational basis currently exists (if it ever existed) between the cap imposed by [the law] and any legitimate state purpose.  At the present time,” the Court continued, “the cap on noneconomic damages serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members.”  The Court also pointed out that the cap imposed “unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants.”

Illustrating this last point, the Court explained that, had McCall been survived only by her son, “he would have recovered the full amount of his noneconomic damages: $500,000.”  Instead, the cap limited his recovery to half that amount, simply because there were others who suffered loss—McCall’s parents.

The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling did not address medical malpractice damage caps in place when the victim does not die.

The case is McCall v. U.S., No. SC11-1148.

If you have been in this Medical Malpractice case, contact our Medical Malpractice Attorney Miami at Law Offices of Aronovitz Law. Call now: (305) 372-2772