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Florida Supreme Court Rejects Part of Tort Reform Law


When it comes to medical malpractice lawsuits, the state of Florida has been in a major state of transition. A 2003 medical malpractice overhaul law went into effect at the state level, limiting the total amount of penalties and fees that could result from a medical malpractice suit. In theory, this cap was supposed to be a way to help tort reform by limiting the total amount of pain and suffering expenses down to only $500,000 or $1 million. The amount would depend on the number of people involved in the lawsuit and the exact nature of the medical malpractice.

The 2014 Supreme Court Decision

When it comes to personal injury cases, this led to a major cap on what people could be awarded no matter what situation resulted from the malpractice. The Supreme Court of the state made the ruling that the cap on wrongful death non-economic damages could not be kept the way they were written in that law since they're unconstitutional. The idea behind the ruling is that this "reform law" violates the state's equal protection clause in the constitution. Because of that, it was overturned.

The majority decision stated that their belief was that the cap gave only modest savings or chance of reform while imposing a devastating impact on a number of families and others who were being restricted for no good reason. One especially problematic part of the previous law was the fact that someone injured or hurt because of a different type of negligence did not have the same cap limit to pain and suffering, which meant medical negligence was treated differently from any other type of negligence in the state.

How This Could Affect Your Case

The immediate effect is hard to ignore. While personal injury civil cases are down overall in Florida, according to the Miami Herald there are on average about 700 medical malpractice cases in the legal system. Now that the cap is off, these aren't limited to a half a million or a full million dollar ceiling that was in place even at the beginning of those cases. The moment that cap was struck down, every single one of those cases now has the ability to award more than the previous caps allowed.

Any cases of medical malpractice that led to particularly bad pain or suffering stories, or even the loss of a loved one, will suddenly be in a position to possibly get large awards from a jury case. The other side of this is higher settlements. When there were very clear caps on what could be awarded, settlements were obviously going to be well under those amounts. Now that the ceiling has been removed, negotiations for settlements will also go way up since the potential damages can be so much worse.

The Case That Helped Lead to This Place

Michelle McCall bled out during a C-section in 2006 at a Fort Walton Beach hospital, and the federal government was sued since they received military medical treatment. The judgement was for $2 million yet since this was in the state of Florida, it was reduced to $1 million. That was appealed up to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which wouldn't rule the state law as unconstitutional, but made the rare move of even outright suggesting that the state should reconsider the way their law was set up.

In Conclusion

While there will likely be attempts to alter the law rather than scrapping it altogether, right now the judgement is simple: there currently cannot be caps on medical negligence. This is a relief to many families where multiple members feel the pain and burden of a medical malpractice situation. Previously the cap resulted in extremely small settlements since the total amount divvyed up had to be below the caps. No doubt, many people are a little more relieved to see those caps removed.

Sources:

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/article1961331.html