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Florida Supreme Court Removes Limits On Non-Economic Damages In Medical Malpractice Claims

The Florida Supreme Court deemed the state law that limits the non-economic damages that can be recovered in cases of medical malpractice to be in violation of their Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The court justices had opposing views on limitations which apply to the awards for things such as “pain and suffering”. The caps were put in place to address a malpractice insurance “crisis” that lawmakers felt existed. The court found no evidence of a current correlation between awards for noneconomic damages and the costs providers pay for medical malpractice insurance rates.

Justice Ricky Polston disapproved of the ruling explaining that this type of policy should be decided by the legislature—not by the courts. Polston feels that lawmakers should be the ones to assess the potential existence of a malpractice insurance crisis and amend the state statutes. This ruling went further to include that injury cases should be treated similarly to wrongful death cases. In 2014, the court found that damage limits were unconstitutional in matters of wrongful death. Beginning in 2003, Florida doctors persuaded Governor Jeb Bush and legislators that the high costs of medical malpractice insurance could be controlled by installing the caps.

The court found that broadly reducing compensation awards without consideration for the individual severity of the injuries in a case was contrary to the constitution. In 2007, Susan Kalitan had surgery for carpal-tunnel syndrome and her esophagus was damaged during the administration of the anesthesia. The jury in the case awarded her $4 million in noneconomic damages; however, this amount was reduced to $2 million based on the limitations in place.

Medical malpractice cases in Florida are defined as actions seeking damages for the personal injury or death of a patient that is caused by the negligence of a medical provider. Plaintiffs have a burden of proof to show that a medical provider demonstrated a failure to provide a reasonable level of professional care. This level of care is a standard that a provider would be expected to deliver considering the circumstances. The fact that an injury occurred does not by itself signal that negligence action took place. The laws recognize that emerging trends and methods of care are used by different medical providers and that those acting in good faith must be given consideration even when undesirable outcomes occur.

Florida’s procedures in claims of malpractice focus largely on testimony from expert witnesses to determine what should be considered a professional standard of care in the matter. Expert witnesses are to be professionals working in the same specialty as the defendant and possess “substantial professional experience”. Witnesses may not testify on a contingency basis and must be active and in good standing within their profession.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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