When states enact so-called “medical malpractice reforms” (also known as “tort reforms”) such as caps (limits) on non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and disfigurement) that victims of medical malpractice may recover despite a jury’s determination and verdict in excess of the cap, there may be questions as to when the reforms apply and/or how the reforms apply.
Florida recently grappled with this issue in a case involving a medical malpractice claim for the permanent damage to a man’s heart due to the alleged medical mistakes by his medical care providers who failed to give the man the anti-clotting drug Retavase during his heart attack in April, 2003 (three months before Florida’s cap on non-economic damages became effective). The medical malpractice case involving the man’s alleged negligent care was filed two years later, after the non-economic damages cap became effective.
In addressing the issue of the effective date of the Florida non-economic damages cap, the Florida Supreme Court determined that the date of the alleged medical malpractice injury was the relevant date in determining if the Florida cap on non-economic damages applied, not the date that the medical malpractice case was filed. The Florida Supreme Court reasoned that the Florida Legislature could not make the change in the law retroactive because making it retroactive would be unjust.
As a result, the verdict rendered by the jury in the Florida man’s case in the amount of $10.3 million would not be reduced to less than $1 million, which would be the amount allowable if the cap applied to his medical malpractice case. (Unfortunately for the man’s surviving wife, the defendant emergency room physician only had a $1 million medical malpractice policy limit.)
Caps on non-economic damages awarded by medical malpractice juries in many states are a much debated topic. Doctors and their ilk argue that caps are necessary to keep medical costs down and to keep doctors from leaving their medical practices due to high medical malpractice insurance premiums. Victims of medical malpractice, their families, and their lawyers often argue that caps unfairly (and unconstitutionally) place artificial limits on jury awards that violate the sanctity of the jury’s verdict (juries are most often not told about caps or the amount of the caps — the caps (reductions), when applicable, are applied by a judge after the jury renders its verdict, and the medical care providers whose negligence has been found to have caused the plaintiff to be injured are not responsible to pay any amount for non-economic damages above the cap (it’s as if the jury never determined and awarded an amount above the cap as fair and adequate compensation for the non-economic damages suffered by the plaintiff)).
We, at MedicalMalpracticeLawyers.com, believe in the ageless value and constitutional right of having an unbiased and local jury selected by the parties to a medical malpractice lawsuit listen to all of the trial testimony, evaluate the trial evidence, and consider the arguments of the parties’ lawyers before retiring to deliberate the claims of the various parties and to come to a verdict that comports with the facts and evidence in the case and the applicable law. When state legislatures disrespect the constitutional right of the parties to have their jury render its opinion and decision and refuse to give the jury’s verdict full force and effect by imposing arbitrary caps on allowable damages, then we have lost an important constitutional right hewn from hundreds of years of worldly experience and near-universal agreement that a jury of one’s peers is the best and ultimate unbiased decider of our fate.
If you or a loved one have become the victim of medical malpractice, the timely advice of a medical malpractice attorney is critical to protecting and preserving your rights. Click here to visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may be able to help you with your medical malpractice claim or telephone us toll free at 800-295-3959.
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