Florida Supreme Court Says Cap On Wrongful Death Noneconomic Damages Violates Equal Protection

On March 13, 2014, the Supreme Court of Florida (“Florida Supreme Court”) held that “the cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages provided in section 766.118, Florida Statutes, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.”

The case involved an Air Force dependent who died shortly after giving birth to a healthy baby, allegedly due to the negligence of her medical providers who were acting as agents of the United States. A medical malpractice claim was filed against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The federal judge who heard the medical malpractice claim determined that the economic damages amounted to $980,462.40. The judge further determined that the noneconomic damages (which includes nonfinancial losses such as pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, and loss of capacity for enjoyment of life) totaled $2 million ($500,000 for the child who was now motherless and $750,000 each to the woman’s parents). Nonetheless, the federal judge reduced the noneconomic damages award to $1 million, pursuant to Florida’s statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims (“The total noneconomic damages recoverable by all claimants from all practitioner defendants under this subsection shall not exceed $1 million in the aggregate”).

The Florida Supreme Court was asked to decide whether Florida’s cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages under section 766.118 violates the right to equal protection guaranteed by the Florida Constitution (“All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law,” which means that everyone is entitled to stand before the law on equal terms with, to enjoy the same rights as belong to, and to bear the same burden as are imposed upon others in a like situation).

The Florida Supreme Court held that Florida’s statutory cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence results in multiple claimants because medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same rights to full compensation. The Florida Supreme Court further determined that the cap on noneconomic damages violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution because it bears no rational relationship to a legitimate state objective (the alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida), thereby failing the rational basis test (a statute must bear a rational and reasonable relationship to a legitimate state objective and it cannot be arbitrary or capriciously imposed).

The Florida Supreme Court discussed at length the alleged medical malpractice “crisis” in Florida, concluding that the available evidence fails to establish a rational relationship between a cap on noneconomic damages and alleviation of the purported crisis and that the available data fail to establish a legitimate relationship between the cap on wrongful death noneconomic damages and the lowering of medical malpractice insurance premiums, noting that between 2003 and 2010, four insurance companies that offered medical malpractice insurance in Florida cumulatively reported an increase in their net income of more than 4300 percent.

The Florida Supreme Court stated that even if there had been a medical malpractice crisis in Florida at the turn of the century, the current data reflects that it has subsided and that no rational basis currently exists (if it ever existed) between the cap imposed by section 766.118 and any legitimate state purpose. At the present time, the cap on noneconomic damages serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members; it has never been demonstrated that there was a proper predicate for imposing the burden of supporting the Florida legislative scheme upon the shoulders of the persons and families who have been most severely injured and died as a result of medical negligence.

Estate of Michelle Evette McCall, et al. v. United States of America, No. SC11-1148.

If you may have been injured as a result of medical malpractice in the United States, you should promptly contact a local medical malpractice attorney who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 14th, 2014 at 5:15 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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