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A Brief Primer on Medical Malpractice in Florida

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It’s not exactly a secret that Florida politicians have not traditionally been fans of medical malpractice lawsuits. There was a widespread belief under the Jeb Bush administration that “frivolous lawsuits” led to high healthcare costs. During this period, the Jeb Administration passed a number of laws that limited the amount of damages a plaintiff could receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

But after 14 years on the books, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled the medical malpractice damage caps unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled against damage caps based on the opinion that no medical malpractice insurance crisis ever existed. They further said that at no point during the 14 years that the law was on the books was there ever any evidence that it improved the cost of healthcare. Most importantly, the Justices said damage caps violated equal protection under the law.

What does that mean?

The Justices argued that the damage caps unfairly limited jury awards of patients who suffered catastrophic injuries. In other words, these patients were not being protected in proportion to their injuries.

Every time a major law like this is ruled unconstitutional, there is a case involved where a plaintiff is being treated unfairly. In Florida, it was the following.

Susan Kaitlan v. North Broward Hospital District 

The Supreme Court decision that struck down Florida medical malpractice damage caps began in 2008 when Susan Kaitlan went to the hospital to have routine carpal tunnel surgery performed. During the procedure, the anesthesiologist perforated her esophagus when intubating her. When she awoke, she complained of severe chest and back pains, but the hospital treated her pain and let her go home.

The next day, she was found by a neighbor, who discovered her unconscious. She was rushed back to the hospital where she underwent life-saving surgery. She was then placed into a medically induced coma for several weeks. She was forced to undergo intensive therapy in order to eat again. She still suffers from intense pain throughout her upper body and has difficulty eating.

Kaitlan won the case and the jury awarded her $4 million for non-economic damages. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, emotional trauma, loss of consortium and loss of enjoyment – intangible damages that cannot be evaluated mathematically.

However, the court ruled that the jury award was in excess of the damage caps that the law stipulated could not be exceeded. The plaintiff appealed the verdict until it found its way before Florida Supreme Court who held that the damage caps were unconstitutional. The plaintiff was finally awarded what she sought.

It was a landmark case for Florida malpractice plaintiffs become it allowed them to seek compensation commensurate with their injuries. A similar battle is now being fought in Wisconsin where a woman lost all four limbs because of misdiagnosed strep throat that led to septic shock. A jury awarded the woman over $23 million but the Wisconsin cap on non-economic damages only entitled her $750,000 of the more than $16 million that she was awarded. The case will go before Wisconsin’s State Supreme Court.

Have You Sustained an Injury after a Hospital Visit?

Not every case with an adverse medical result rises to the standard of medical malpractice, but if you have been injured by a doctor or a hospital, you should contact an attorney to investigate your potential case. Tampa Bay’s Masterson, Hoag, & Smith has over 85 years of combined experience in prosecuting personal injury claims and taking those cases to trial. Give us a call at 727-325-2696 or contact us online, and we’ll begin discussing your case immediately.

Resources:

jsonline.com/story/news/investigations/2017/07/05/wisconsins-cap-medical-malpractice-awards-unconstitutional-courts-rules/451418001/

articles.latimes.com/2003/aug/15/nation/na-malprac15

sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-bz-sup-court-overturns-med-mal-cap-20170608-story.html

 

 

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