Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal has joined the 4th DCA in its finding that damage caps in medical malpractice injury lawsuits are unconstitutional. These damage caps, enacted by a 2003 overhaul of state law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, limit the amount of money injury plaintiffs can receive for pain and suffering when medical malpractice results in a serious personal injury.
The Florida Supreme Court is still reviewing the 4th DCA’s finding in a similar case, North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, in which the hospital is appealing the court’s finding that damage caps shouldn’t apply to injury lawsuits stemming from the breach of care acceptable care standards by doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
This conflict between the appeals court rulings and the law come after the Florida Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in McCall v. U.S., in which justices ruled non-economic damages in medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuits are not constitutional. So the sticking point in the current cases is whether that also extends to injury cases, where plaintiff did not die.
In the latest case, Port Charlotte HMA v. Suarez, the claim arose from the obstetrical care and treatment of plaintiff during her pregnancy with her daughter. Plaintiff went to the hospital three times in a span of two weeks in August 2010. She had early onset preeclampsia, which can potentially be life-threatening. Despite her worsening condition, her doctor’s did not begin administering steroids to help speed up the development of her daughter’s brain and lungs. They also failed to transfer her to a facility better-equipped to handle a premature birth of under 33 weeks. Plaintiff gave birth when her baby was just 26 weeks gestational age. Her daughter suffered severe neurological impairments rendering her unable to physically do many basic things, and she will be fully dependent on others for the rest of her life, with 24-7 care necessitated.
Plaintiff alleges her daughter’s neurological impairments were the result of the negligence by doctors, the hospital and the hospital’s employees. The hospital argues neither it nor its employees were negligent. Plaintiff settled with one of the doctors pre-trial. Jurors later determined both the hospital and another doctor were the legal cause of the child’s injuries, apportioning 30 percent of the fault on the hospital and 70 percent on the doctor. Jurors found the little girl; suffered total damages of $13.5 million, which included $1.25 million in non-economic damages (i.e., pain and suffering), and her mother incurred $9.6 million in damages, including $4 million in non-economic damages.
After trial, the hospital sought to reduce the jury verdict pursuant to F.S. 766.118(3), holding the hospital’s liability for non-economic damages should be capped at $1.5 million total for the case. Plaintiff responded that the damage cap is unconstitutional. Trial court denied the hospital’s motion and declined to apply the statutory cap. The hospital also filed a post-trial motion to set off the economic damages by $193,000, which was granted. Ultimately, both plaintiff and her daughter were awarded a total of $6.7 million from the hospital, which appealed with regard to the trial court’s refusal to apply the statutory cap.
The 2nd DCA affirmed, basing its decision on the McCall findings. That’s when the Florida Supreme Court held that a cap on wrongful death non-economic damages violates plaintiffs’ equal protection clause of the state’s constitution. The 2nd DCA agreed with the 4th DCA in its Kalitan case that if it violated the equal protection of wrongful death plaintiffs, it also extended to medical malpractice lawsuits stemming from personal injury.
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Port Charlotte HMA v. Suarez, Oct. 26, 2016, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
$53M Birth Injury Verdict Awarded to Mother, Boy With Cerebral Palsy, July 19, 2016, Orlando Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog