High court in Florida to weigh in on medical malpractice caps again

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Less  than three months after ruling that part of a 2003 medical-malpractice law was unconstitutional, the Florida Supreme Court is taking up another dispute about limits on damages in malpractice cases.  This past week, Justices heard arguments in a Miami-Dade County case that centers on Kimberly Ann Miles, who suffered complications in early 2003 after what she said was an unnecessary surgery on her leg. A jury awarded the woman and her husband $1.5 million in pain-and-suffering damages, but lower courts reduced that amount to $500,000 because of limits in the medical-malpractice law.

The Supreme Court is faced with deciding whether damage limits should apply to injuries suffered before the law took effect, a concept known as “retroactivity.” Miles and her husband, Jody Haynes, filed the lawsuit against Dr. Daniel Weingrad in January 2006, nearly three years after the injury.

Philip Burlington, Miles’ attorney, argued before the Supreme Court that the damage caps should not be retroactive to injuries suffered prior to passage of the law. Doing so, he continued, would violate the right of due process.  However, Dinah Stein, an attorney for physician Daniel Weingrad, the defendant in the case, said non-economic damages ” typically awarded for pain and suffering ” are œtremendously discretionary on the part of the jury and retroactive application of limits did not take away Miles’ rights.  Siding with Weingrad was the 3rd District Court of Appeal, but the 4th District Court of Appeal ” ruling in a different suit ” took another stance on retroactivity.

The Supreme Court in March rejected part of the law when it sided with the family of a Panhandle woman who died in 2006 from complications after giving birth. The family appealed to the Supreme Court after being awarded $1 million in non-economic damages in a malpractice lawsuit. A judge had agreed with arguments that the family should receive $2 million but reduced the amount because of the 2003 law.
Justices ruled that the cap on damages in such wrongful death cases was unconstitutional.

The Miles case is different, at least in part, because it does not involve a wrongful-death claim.  In court documents, Miles’ attorneys said she was diagnosed with melanoma in 2002 and had a tumor removed. She then went to see Weingrad, a surgical oncologist, who said the first procedure did not remove all of the melanoma and that she needed an additional surgery.  The lawsuit alleged that tests later showed the second procedure was unnecessary and that Miles suffered complications that included needing to be hospitalized for an infection. The court documents said she suffered permanent damage.

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