Florida medical malpractice wrongful death damage caps overturned in state Supreme Court ruling

by John Chapman

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that damage caps in medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuits are unconstitutional under state law. In a 5-2 ruling in Estate of McCall v. Unites States of America, the state’s Supreme Court said that a Florida law limiting “non-economic” damages for malpractice violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.

The law, which was passed in 2003 under then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was passed by the state’s legislature under the rationale that limiting damages for medical malpractice would lower insurance rates for doctors and prevent physicians from shrinking their practices or moving out of the state.

The case involved in the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling involved a woman who developed pregnancy complications including hypertension and severe preeclampsia during her third trimester, prompting doctors at the Florida Air Force base where she was being treated to induce labor. Although the woman gave birth to a healthy baby, she went into cardiac arrest and shock during delivery due to loss of blood and later died as a result of these complications.

After filing a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the woman’s family was awarded nearly $1 million in economic damages and $2 million in non-economic damages. However, this non-economic damages award was subsequently reduced to $1 million, the maximum amount allowed at the time under the Florida damage caps law.

In its ruling in McCall, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the rationale behind the state’s damage caps law, stating that the it hurt families whose loved ones were the victims of medical malpractice:

“No rational basis currently exists (if it ever existed) between the cap imposed by section 766.118 and any legitimate state purpose. At the present time, the cap on noneconomic damages serves no other purpose other than to arbitrarily punish the most grievously injured or their surviving family members.”

“Moreover, it has never been demonstrated that there was a proper predicate for imposing the burden of supporting the Florida legislative scheme upon the shoulder of the person and families who have been most severely injured and died as a result of medical negligence.”

The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on the state’s medical malpractice law did not address the question of damage caps in cases that did not involve wrongful death.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits Filed Over Medical Malpractice

Doctors and hospitals have a responsibility to their patients to provide adequate medical care to their patients under current standards of care. It has been estimated that more than 225,000 patients die each year as a result of medical malpractice. Studies have shown that the majority of these deaths were easily preventable.

Medical malpractice incidents may take on a number of forms, including the misdiagnosis of an injury or illness, failure to diagnose, medication errors including opioid overprescription or overuse of anesthesia, failure to obtain an a complete and accurate patient history, surgical errors, treatment delays, preventable infections, use of defective medical equipment, or unnecessary medical procedures. When medical errors such as these lead to the wrongful death of patients, the doctors and hospitals that were responsible may be held accountable for their negligence in a court of law.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has the knowledge, experience and financial resources necessary to prosecute even the most complex medical negligence case. Our attorneys have successfully represented numerous victims of medical malpractice, including cases such as the following:

  • Jim Orr negotiated a $6.75 million settlement for the family of an 8 year-old child who suffered permanent brain damage due to medical errors occurring at a VA hospital.
  • Michael Heygood achieved a $2.2 million jury verdict in a medical malpractice lawsuit arising from the premature discharge of a newborn infant from the hospital with low glucose levels.
  • Eric Pearson argued the appeal in Columbia Medical Center of Las Colinas, Inc. v. Hogue, 271 S.W.3d 238 (Tex. 2009), in which the Texas Supreme Court upheld a gross negligence finding against the defendant hospital in a medical malpractice case and affirmed the jury’s $9 million verdict on behalf of his clients.

Our firm’s success in medical malpractice and wrongful death cases is due in large part to the fact that we are real trial attorneys and have tried hundreds of cases to verdict. Mr. Heygood, Mr. Orr, and Mr. Pearson—all partners at the firm—are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical malpractice by a doctor or other medical staff, the first step in finding out if you qualify to file a lawsuit is to speak with an attorney about your case. For a free legal consultation, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form located on this website.