On July 1, 2015, an appeals court in Florida ruled that damage caps in medical malpractice injury cases were unconstitutional. Our team of malpractice lawyers is excited to report on this major ruling and how it will affect Florida plaintiffs.
The decision came from the medical malpractice personal injury case North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan. The plaintiff in this case underwent outpatient carpel tunnel syndrome surgery to her wrist. As she received anesthesia, one of the tubes nicked Kalitan's esophagus unbeknownst to the anesthesiologist. When she awoke from surgery Kalitan complained of excruciating back and chest pain.
Still unaware of the mistake, the anesthesiologist ordered a drug for chest pain and released Kalitan from the hospital. The next day, a neighbor found Kalitan unresponsive in her home and she was rushed back to the hospital. Kalitan spent the next few weeks in a medically-induced coma, eventually undergoing several surgeries and physical therapy from an infection caused by the perforated esophagus.
Kalitan filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Broward County, the anesthesiologist, North Broward Hospital District, the registered nurse anesthetist, and the company that provided anesthesiologists to the hospital district.
A jury awarded Kalitan $4.7 million, $4 million of which in non-economic damages. There are three types of damages plaintiffs can receive in a personal injury case: economic, non-economic, and punitive:
- Economic damages are the literal costs the person incurred from the injury, such as medical bills and time lost from work.
- Non-economic damages are awarded for the pain, emotional distress, inconvenience, physical impairment, or disfigurement suffered from the injury.
- Punitive damages are meant to punish extreme acts of intentional, fraudulent, malicious, or reckless behavior.
Several states have imposed limits on how much plaintiffs can receive in punitive or non-economic damages. We have outlined each state's damage caps here.
In 2003, then-Governor Jeb Bush signed a medical malpractice law that limited the amount of non-economic damages plaintiffs can receive. The cap was meant to keep medical malpractice insurance rates down; however there is no basis for this claim, as there is no rational correlation between lower medical malpractice insurance rates and non-economic damage caps.
Under this 2003 law, Kalitan was eligible to receive only $2 million in non-economic damages, so her award was reduced by the trial court after the verdict. She appealed the reduction to Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals (Fourth DCA), which ultimately ruled that the damage cap was unconstitutional.
This decision was based on the Florida Supreme Court case Estate of McCall v. United States. In this case, the judges determined that non-economic damage caps in wrongful death cases violated the constitutional right of equal protection. The Fourth DCA found that under the law requiring damage caps on medical malpractice injury claims, victims who suffered the most extreme injuries were unable to recover the full amount of damages they are entitled to. Meanwhile, people who suffered lesser injuries were able to recover the full amount of damages.
The court found this violated victims' constitutional right to be treated" in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances," which is stated in the 14th amendment. The court found that there was no rational basis to limit non-economic damages in personal injury cases. It is not known if the defendants will appeal this case to the Florida Supreme Court.
As a result of this decision, victims of medical malpractice in Florida will be able to recover the full amount of damages they are entitled to, and Kalitan will receive the full $4.7 million she was awarded. For the first time since 2003, Florida medical malpractice plaintiffs are enjoying equal protection under the law.
The medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have 30 years of experience fighting on behalf of injured victims and their families. We handle cases in Florida and all other states, and we are always willing to travel to you to help guide you through the legal process. We offer free case reviews and we never charge any attorneys' fees unless we win you a settlement or verdict.