I am very proud of Florida’s Fourth District of Appeal and the decision they just made that will benefit all the people of Florida. One year after the Florida Supreme Court held the state’s $1 million statutory cap on wrongful death non-economic (pain and suffering) damages from medical malpractice unconstitutional, this court extended that decision to personal injury medical malpractice cases. In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel from Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the Florida Supreme Court’s holding in Estate of McCall v. United States (that the cap on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases was unconstitutional ) should be extended to include personal injury cases as well.
The 14-page decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the appeals court, said the “caps are unconstitutional not only in wrongful death actions, but also in personal injury suits as they violate equal protection. … Whereas the caps on non-economic damages in (the section of state law) fully compensate those individuals with non-economic damages in an amount that falls below the caps, injured parties with non-economic damages in excess of the caps are not fully compensated.” The ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Alan Forst and joined by Chief Judge Cory Ciklin and Judge W. Matthew Stevenson, said the appeal presented an issue of “first impression,” which means it is the first time the constitutional question has been decided.
In the McCall case, decided in March 2014, the majority opinion concluded that the cap on non-economic (pain and suffering) damages for medical malpractice cases arbitrarily reduces medical malpractice plaintiff’s rights to full compensation when there are multiple claimants and because it “does not bear a rational relationship” to its stated purpose of addressing a medical malpractice insurance crisis in the state.
The Fourth District applied the same test in the instant case (North Broward Hospital District et al v. Kalitan) and determined the personal injury damages cap’s constitutionality and came to the same conclusion: that the cap violates the equal protection clause of the Florida constitution.
The case arose from an outpatient surgery in 2007 in the North Broward Hospital District to treat plaintiff Susan Kalitan’s carpal tunnel syndrome. The surgery required general anesthesia, and during intubation, her esophagus was punctured, according to the opinion.When she woke up, she complained of horrible pain in her chest and back and was given some pain relief before being discharged and sent home. But when a neighbor found her unresponsive the next day and took her to the emergency room, where she had to be rushed into surgery to repair her esophagus. Kalitan was in a drug-induced coma for several weeks and had to undergo intensive therapy to be able to eat again and to regain mobility, according to the opinion. She sued the hospital and doctors and nurses involved. A jury found in her favor and awarded $4,718,011 in total damages, including non-economic damages of $2 million for past pain and suffering and $2 million for future pain and suffering, according to the opinion. The trial judge reduced the non-economic damages by close to $2 million because of the statutory cap and cut the damages by another $1.3 million, as the hospital’s share of the liability was capped at $100,000 because of its status as a sovereign entity.
The Fourth District ordered the trial court to reinstate the total damages award, but added that they could still be limited because of the hospital’s sovereign immunity.
The case is North Broward Hospital District et al. v. Kalitan, case numbers 4D11-4806, 4D11-4833 and 4D11-4834, in the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida.