The Florida Supreme Court threw out a law limiting the amount of money that can be awarded for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases. Caps randomly “reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries,” the court said.
No Reason for Medical Malpractice Caps
Randomly reducing awards “without regard to the severity of the injury does not bear a rational relationship to the Legislature’s stated interest in addressing the medical malpractice crisis,” wrote Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. “Therefore, we hold that the caps on personal injury non-economic damage violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.”
The law was passed by the Legislature in 2003 with the support of the Florida Medical Association and Governor Jeb Bush. It capped “pain and suffering” awards to malpractice victims at various levels depending on certain conditions. Generally, the law limited non-economic damages to $500,000 or $1 million in catastrophic cases.
Lobbyists for doctors and lawmakers who supported the bill said at the time that there was a crisis in medical malpractice insurance. They claimed that big awards for pain and suffering had caused malpractice insurance rates to go up. Consequently, supporters said, expensive malpractice insurance was driving doctors out of business. However, in overturning the caps, a majority of the court said that there was no such crisis. Finally, they added that limiting awards on pain and suffering would not have solved the problem anyway.
The court’s decision involved a case originally brought in 2008 by a dental assistant. A tube used for anesthesia punctured her esophagus. She was undergoing surgery to repair carpal-tunnel syndrome.