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Florida Judge Upholds Medical Malpractice Non-Economic Caps

June 27, 2011

According to a recent article in Courthouse News, a Florida judge has decided to uphold the precedent of capping jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits at $500,000 for non-economic damages. Non-economic damages include compensation for pain, suffering and loss of consortium. The law was first passed in 2003 as doctors voiced concerns that medical malpractice insurance premiums were rising substantially. Legislators passed the caps with the hopes of bringing down the cost of medical care.

This law was called into question after a lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman who died during childbirth recently came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which covers Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The woman, who died during a medically-induced labor and delivery at an Air Force base hospital, lost an excessive amount of blood during the birth. The nurse at the hospital also hid the fact that the woman's blood pressure had dropped to a dangerously low level from the attending doctor during the birth. As a result of the blood loss, the woman went into shock and eventually went into cardiac arrest. After four days of unconsciousness she was removed from life support.

Her family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, the nurse and the hospital. The case was originally brought before a federal district court in Florida. The presiding judge decided that the family would have been entitled to $2 million in non-economic damages if Florida did not have a medical malpractice cap. Her family then appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the cap on malpractice damages was unconstitutional because it had no rational public policy basis.

The Court disagreed and determined that the cap does not violate the U.S. Constitution. Illinois also had a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits that were struck down recently under Illinois' own constitution. A Chicago medical malpractice attorney can further explain Illinois law on collecting these types of damages in lawsuits.

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