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Second Florida Appellate Court Finds Cap on Noneconomic Damages Unconstitutional

Oldham & Smith Jan. 30, 2017

In November, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal found that the state’s legal caps on noneconomic damages – also known as pain and suffering – in medical malpractice personal injury cases were unconstitutional. In the case, Suarez v. Port Charlotte HMA, LLC, a mother and infant were awarded damages for medical negligence related to the birth of the premature infant. The jury awarded them $13,550,000, including $4 million in noneconomic damages to the infant. However, due to a statutory cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice personal injury claims, the hospital sought a reduction of the award. Based on the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s 2015 decision in Kalitan v. North Broward Hospital District that this cap is unconstitutional, the Second District denied the hospital’s request. Now the issue of recovery for pain and suffering moves up to the Florida Supreme Court. A ruling against non-economic damage caps means a great deal to plaintiffs, who would ultimately benefit from much higher awards without a legally defined limit.

Florida’s Statutory Caps on Noneconomic Damages

Under the current Florida Statute §766.188, there is a maximum amount of non-economic damages plaintiffs are allowed to recover during medical malpractice and related cases. Florida defines noneconomic damages as those deriving from nonfinancial losses suffered by a plaintiff due to the injury that gave rise to the lawsuit. These can include pain, suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, long-term and permanent physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and more. The law states noneconomic damages for personal injury or wrongful death claims arising from medical malpractice are capped at $500,000 per plaintiff. For any negligence that results in death or a vegetative state, regardless of the number of claimants, the maximum noneconomic damages allowed is $1 million.

However, this is no longer the case in the Second and Fourth Districts of Florida. In these areas, the appellate courts have found that this cap is unconstitutional. If a defendant seeks to reduce noneconomic damages awarded to a claimant, the lower courts in these areas must follow the higher court’s decision. Whether or not the prohibition on this cap expands or is overturned now depends on the Florida Supreme Court.

Florida Supreme Court Prohibited Cap on Wrongful Death Claims

It is unknown how the Florida Supreme Court will rule. However, the court previously found that a cap on noneconomic damages for wrongful death claims was unconstitutional. This has many people hopeful that the state Supreme Court will also find the limit on noneconomic damages for medical malpractice claims unconstitutional as well.

If You Have a Medical Malpractice Claim, Call Oldham & Smith Today

The legal team of Oldham & Smith have decades of combined experience in representing individuals in medical malpractice, personal injury, and wrongful death claims. They understand how important it is for people to adequately for their injuries, through reimbursement for their financial losses and compensation for their nonfinancial injuries. The attorneys of Oldham & Smith will fight for you to recover an advantageous settlement or jury award. Call us today to schedule a consultation.