Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Medical Malpractice Award Limits

The Florida Supreme Court reached a decision this week that is sure to please medical malpractice lawyers and victims currently pursuing their cases in the state. The state law limiting pain and suffering, and other non-economic, monetary awards in medical malpractice cases has been ruled unconstitutional, render the cap null and void.

Under the old law, a person that suffered an injury due to medical malpractice could only be awarded $500,000 for pain and suffering by the court regardless of what a jury decided. If a person was catastrophically injured, the limit jumped up to an even million. However, these limits do not include monetary damages for lost wages, medical care, or other directly attributable losses, only the esoteric pain and suffering, and other categories of non-economic damages, like loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship, and emotional distress. Caps, or limits, on damages vary from state to state, but usually only apply to medical malpractice matters.

How’d This Happen?

In 2007, plaintiff Susan Kalitan was undergoing surgery for her carpal tunnel syndrome. After the surgery, her throat was injured when removing a breathing tube, and this injury led to a six week coma and other serious injuries. When her case finally came to trial, a jury awarded her $4 million, however, the court reduced the award by half due to the state law limiting medical malpractice damages.

In 2014, the appeal Katilan filed was finally decided in her favor, striking down the cap. That court ruled that the limit violated the equal protection clause due to the arbitrary basis for reducing damages in the law. It found that the law did not logically make sense based upon the stated purpose of addressing the medical malpractice insurance premium cost crisis. This week, the state’s Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court and upheld the decision.

What Does This Mean for Other States?

Unfortunately, the damages caps on medical malpractice claims in other states are still in effect. The Florida Supreme Court can only impact Florida law. Additionally, the Florida legislature can go back to the drawing board to try to pass a new law that the court won’t be able to strike down.

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