Caps on how much money patients injured by health care provider mistakes can receive were proclaimed to be unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court recently, a decision that strikes down one of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s major policy victories. Justices were sharply divided, with the four-member majority finding that the caps on “non-economic” damages violated equal-protection rights. “Non-economic” damages are considered compensation for pain and suffering. Also, the majority disputed that a malpractice insurance “crisis” exists — a justification that lawmakers used in approving the limits.
“We further conclude that because there is no evidence of a continuing medical malpractice insurance crisis justifying the arbitrary and invidious discrimination between medical malpractice victims, there is no rational relationship between the personal injury noneconomic damage caps … and alleviating this purported crisis.’’
But Justice Ricky Polston, in a blistering dissent joined by justices Charles Canady and Alan Lawson, argued that the majority was overstepping its role. “The majority just discards and ignores all of the Legislature’s work and fact finding,” Polston wrote. “But, under our constitutional system, it is the Legislature, not this Court, that is entitled to make laws as a matter of policy based upon the facts it finds.
The case the court ruled on involves a woman who was severely injured while doctors performed wrist surgery to alieve her carpal tunnel syndrome at a Broward County hospital. An anesthesia tube punctured Susan Kalitan’s esophagus during the surgery. She awoke and complained of severe back and chest pain. Doctors were unaware of the injury and gave her pain medication and sent her home, according to court documents.
A neighbor checking on Kalitan the next day found her unconscious. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed life-saving surgery. She remained in a drug-induced coma for several weeks and later had additional surgeries and intensive therapy to be able to eat again, according to court documents. She continues to endure pain and mental trauma.
A jury awarded her $2 million for past pain and suffering and $2 million for future pain and suffering. A lower court judge determined that Kalitan’s injuries were catastrophic, but the non-economic award was reduced by about $3.3 million because of the medical malpractice caps and separate law that limited the government-run hospital’s liability to $100,000.
The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the damage caps were unconstitutional, pointing to the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in the wrongful-death case.
Nearly 30 states have laws limiting non-economic damages in malpractice cases, but courts in nearly a dozen states, including Illinois, Georgia and Missouri, have overturned them. Malpractice premiums have been stable or have declined for a number of years after rising significantly in the early 2000s.
Read the entire opinion here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2017/sc15-1858.pdf
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/political-pulse/os-malpractice-damages-20170608-story,amp.html & https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/florida/articles/2017-06-08/florida-caps-in-malpractice-cases-ruled-unconstitutional