Judge Denies Motion to Cap Damages in Medical Malpractice Suit
Last year, the Florida Supreme Court declared that some damage caps in medical malpractice lawsuits were unconstitutional. Their rationale was two-fold. First, there was little evidence that the damage caps did what proponents claimed they would do: reduce healthcare costs. Nor did they find any evidence that there was a “malpractice insurance crisis” that was argued to be the basis for the need to restrict damages. Secondly, and more importantly, the laws that capped damages in medical malpractice cases violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The Equal Protection Clause provides that no state shall deny any person within its jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws.”
Nonetheless, there were certain holdovers to the damage caps statute. These laws limited damages in instances when a plaintiff rejected a defendant’s offer to arbitrate the claim. According to the statute, if a plaintiff rejects a defendant’s offer to arbitrate a claim, they are limited in the amount of non-economic damages that they can recover. The amount is capped at $350,000.
Recently, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jose M. Rodriguez denied a defense motion to reduce a jury award for non-economic damages from $500,000 to $350,000 because the defense offered to voluntarily arbitrate the claim. The plaintiffs argued that the statute that capped damages in other medical malpractice cases was every bit as unconstitutional as the statute that capped damages in the current. The Circuit Court ultimately ruled that Florida Statutes Sections 766.207(7)(k) and 766.209(4)(a) are unconstitutional and found that there is no functional difference between these statutes and Section 766.118. Each law specifically discriminates between classes of medical malpractice cases, and that Sections 766.207 and 766.209’s limits are also arguably harsher than Section 766.118’s because the latter contains higher caps for more egregious injuries. The Court also found that any benefit a plaintiff derives from Sections 766.207 and 766.209 is dwarfed by that bestowed upon a defendant: the ability to “unilaterally limit the claimant’s noneconomic damages .. whether the claimant accepts arbitration, … or goes to trial.” The Court noted that these statutes thus epitomize “the classic case of heads I win, tails you lose,” and if the Supreme Court has previously held that merely capping the recovery of the most egregiously injured was arbitrary, irrational, and fundamentally offensive to the notion of equal justice; then laws that vest a defendant with the power to limit a plaintiff’s recovery are equally, if not more, arbitrary, irrational, and offensive.
Why This is an Important Decision
While the ruling that overturned certain damage caps in Florida negated portions of Florida Statutes Section 766.118, the scope of the decision left two other sections (766.207 and 766.209) on the books. These statutes remain on the books even though they appear to violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Furthermore, they incentivize defendants to offer arbitration for the sole purpose of limiting the potential damages that may later be awarded against them in a lawsuit.
The judgment declares that the equal protection clause that declared damage caps unconstitutional, also apply to other sections that dealt with arbitration. This could prompt higher courts to rule that these holdover laws from Jeb Bush’s damage cap push are also unconstitutional.
Why These Statutes Were Unfair
In lawsuits that involved death, permanent impairment, or disfigurement, there can be very large payouts. The statutes operated in such a manner that they allowed the defendant to force larger claims that might have large payouts into arbitration. If the plaintiff rejected the offer of arbitration and took the suit to trial, their damages would end up being capped at $350,000 no matter how extensive their injuries were or how egregious the malpractice.
Due to that fact, it left patients who suffered serious injuries or death as the result of medical negligence with no other option than to take their chances in arbitration.
The reason why damage caps were struck down in the first place was that they unfairly restricted the damages that could be recovered by those who had suffered serious life-altering injuries or death. It likewise would not be fair to deny them a trial by jury – especially by virtue of the fact that their damages are worse than others.
Have You Been Injured by the Negligence of a Doctor or Hospital?
If so, contact the Tampa Bay medical malpractice attorneys at Masterson, Hoag, & Smith, P.A. We can be reached at 727-325-2696 or you can contact us online. We can begin discussing your case immediately.