The Florida legislature did not violate the state or U.S. Constitution when it decided to limit noneconomic damages to $500,000 or less in cases of medical negligence. Florida lawmakers claim the cap was instituted to reduce medical malpractice insurance and allow for less expensive medical care. Whether the cap will accomplish that goal remains to be seen.
The cap was called into question after the parents and son of a woman who died as a result of medical malpractice during labor were awarded nearly $1 million in economic damages and $2 million in noneconomic damages. The wrongful death resulted from errors by her family doctors, obstetrician and attending nurse. Blood loss during the course of her labor caused her to go into shock and eventually led to cardiac arrest. She did not regain consciousness and passed away after four days once she was disconnected from life support.
The law places a fixed value on something that is difficult to define-what is a human life worth? The panel of three 11thCircuit judges agreed that the Florida Legislature was allowed to make that determination for every situation. Florida has sought numerous ways to lower the costs of medical care and generally improve the state of the health care system throughout the state.
The limit on noneconomic damages is restricted to claims against practitioners. In this case, the plaintiffs had attempted to support their claims for damages by including non-practitioners in the suit. While the court did not say that this could never allow a plaintiff to recover more, it did state that the role of non-practitioner negligence was not clearly established in connection with Ms. McCall’s tragic death. The court also left several state constitutional claims open for certification to the Florida Supreme Court.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “Florida Can Cap Big Malpractice Awards,” Marimer Matos, 1 June 2011.