The state asks Florida Supreme Court to uphold medical malpractice caps

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Florida Supreme Court

After a jury awarded a female $4.7 million dollars in a medical malpractice case, with $4 million of that in non-economic damages,  the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld the award citing to the 2014 Supreme Curt decision ruling that the limits were unconstitutional.  Recently,the defendants appealed the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.  What has made headlines?  The State of Florida is weighing in on the case.  Attorney General Pam Bondi’s filed a 23 page friend-of-the-court brief urging the Florida Supreme Court to uphold a key part of the controversial 2003 medical-malpractice law pointing to the Legislature’s efforts to address a (then called) “crisis”.   The brief filed by Bondi’s office signals the potential high stakes of a pending Supreme Court case that could further eliminate limits on damages in medical-malpractice cases. “Kalitan failed to rebut any of the exhaustive research, testimony, or data supporting the conclusion that a noneconomic damages cap is a critical, necessary method of addressing a medical malpractice crisis that was undermining the Legislature’s goal of making high-quality health care accessible,” the attorney general’s brief said. “Nor can she show that there was an alternative available to the Legislature for addressing the crisis.”

I don’t know if you remember but the the 2003 medical-malpractice issue was one of the ugliest and (for our clients) most devastating legislative sessions in recent years and took months to resolve.  As Plaintiffs’ lawyers, we lobbied heavily against limiting pain-and-suffering damages — known as noneconomic damages — and argued that the caps would violate the rights of injured patients. Our fight landed on deaf ears.  We had a Republican governor, Jeb Bush, Republican legislature so the Florida Medical Association, and other similar lobbying groups won. Their law was passed.  Under the law, damages were capped at different amounts, depending on factors such as the numbers of claimants in lawsuits and the types of defendants. For example, part of the law included $500,000 and $1 million damage caps for physicians, with lower amounts when the cases involve emergency care.  But this summer, the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the limits were unconstitutional in malpractice personal-injury cases — after the Supreme Court earlier ruled against the limits in wrongful-death cases.

The Kalitan case was filed in 2008 in Broward County and named a series of defendants, including the North Broward Hospital District, an anesthesiologist, a certified registered nurse anesthetist and a company that contracted to provide anesthesiologists and staff to the hospital district.  The case came after dental assistant Susan Kalitan went into surgery for carpal-tunnel syndrome and ended up suffering a perforated esophagus after tubes were inserted into her mouth and esophagus as part of the anesthesia process.  A jury awarded Kalitan about $4.7 million, with $4 million of that in non-economic damages, according to court records. But a circuit judge, applying the caps from the 2003 law, reduced the non-economic damages award by about $2 million, which included amounts to be paid by various parties and a finding that Kalitan suffered a “catastrophic injury.” Such a finding can lead to larger damage amounts than in other malpractice cases.  The 4th District Court of Appeal, however, cited a 2014 Supreme Court decision that found the caps unconstitutional in a wrongful-death case. 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 North Broward Hospital District and the other defendants asked the Supreme Court on Dec. 3 to take up the issue.

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