Medical Malpractice

Florida medical malpractice laws and the caps on non-economic damages (commonly known as "pain and suffering") have been the subject of legal and political battles since the entire malpractice system was overhauled in 2003. After months of debate that year, lawmakers passed and then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed legislation that limited the amount of non-economic damages in malpractice suits based on a number of factors, including the number and type of plaintiffs.

Those who supported the caps argued that there was a malpractice insurance "crisis" that was significantly impacting Florida's health care providers. Whether that crisis existed was and remains a source of dispute.

The damage caps have been challenged in the courts since 2003, with plaintiffs' attorneys arguing that they're unconstitutional. In 2014, the state supreme court ruled that they were. That case involved a woman who died in a Florida hospital in 2007 after childbirth.

Case Isn't First to Challenge Caps' Constitutionality

Now the Florida Supreme Court finds this debate again at its doorstep. The case involves a woman injured during carpal tunnel surgery in 2007. In her personal injury claim against the North Broward Hospital District and others, she said that she suffered a perforated esophagus from the tubes inserted to administer the anesthesia.

A jury awarded the woman non-economic damages of $4 million. However, because of the caps in place, that was reduced by about half. An appeals court determined that the malpractice caps were unconstitutional. Now the case is before the high court.

Was (and Is) There a Malpractice Insurance Crisis?

One of the issues at hand is whether the justification for the caps in 2003 -- namely the reported malpractice insurance crisis -- still existed to justify these caps. One justice posed that very question.

The plaintiff's attorney referred the court back to its decision in the wrongful death case. He argued that if the crisis was over in 2006, when the woman died after childbirth, it was likewise over when his client was injured the following year.

An attorney for the defendants argued that whether the crisis is over, or even exited at all, was not addressed by the evidence in this case.

Changing laws, even on the state level, can be a drawn-out, arduous process. Therefore, it's unlikely that the caps will be dropped by state lawmakers soon. However, the limits can continue to be, as they are here, challenged in individual medical malpractice cases in the courts.