Personal Injury Blog

Florida Supreme Court Overturns 'Unconstitutional' Damages Cap in Wrongful Death Claims

By: Allan M. Siegel

On Thursday March 13, the Florida Supreme Court overturned a controversial law that limited noneconomic damages families could recover in wrongful death claims resulting from medical malpractice. The decision is considered a great victory for families who have lost loved ones to the preventable actions or negligence of health care providers.

An Unconstitutional Cap

Medical Mapractice

Under the 2003 law, noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases that resulted in death were limited to $500,000 or $1 million, depending on the facts of a case and the number of plaintiffs involved. The law – which was signed by Governor Jeb Bush, was passed in an effort to reduce medical insurance rates and keep doctors from moving out of state. Legal experts across the country have noted that the 2003 law was unfair because it treated victims who suffered losses as a result of medical malpractice differently than victims who suffered losses as a result of another type of wrongful act or negligence, such as a car accident.

The case that brought about the significant legislative change was filed by the family of a 20-year-old mother who died as the result of excessive blood loss during a C-section. Although a federal judge had agreed that the woman did not receive adequate care and awarded her parents and son $2 million in noneconomic damages, the award was reduced to $1 million because of the 2003 law.

After two years, the Florida Supreme Court ultimately ruled the damages cap to be arbitrary, unfair, and unconstitutional under Florida law. The court also commented on lawmakers' assertions that an explosion in medical malpractice claims would cause Florida physicians to leave the state without the caps. According to the court, the cap on wrongful death damages resulting from medical malpractice did not relate to what it was purported to address – an alleged medical malpractice insurance crisis in Florida.

Hopefully, Courts in other states will follow Florida's lead. Maryland has a cap on noneconomic losses in all cases, not just medical malpractice cases. This cap is arbitrary and capricious. For example, if you are in a car accident in Maryland, and you lose a limb, you will be limited to approximately $750,000 in non-economic damages. (the cap changes depending on the year that the car accident occurred). Similarly, Virginia has a cap on all damages in medical malpractice cases. This includes economic and non-economic damages. Thus, if you have significant medical expenses, and lost wages as a result of medical malpractice in Virginia, then the amount you will be able to recover for pain and suffering is even less. The District of Columbia does not have any caps on damages. Accordingly, if you are in a car accident in the Washington, D.C. or are subject to medical malpractice in Washington, D.C. or any other kind of negligence, you will be able to recover full and fair compensation for your injuries.

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, our legal team acts as powerful advocates for victims and families who have suffered losses through no fault of their own. For more than 40 years, our firm and our Maryland personal injury lawyers have fought to ensure that our clients recover complete compensation. We believe that this case is a significant victory for victims and their loved ones, that is preserves the rights of patients who receive inadequate medical care, and that it can help hold negligent medical professionals accountable for the harm and life-altering damages they cause.