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How Much Is A Doctor’s Mistake Worth?

Doctor performing procedureEveryone makes mistakes, even doctors. Unfortunately, however, when a doctor makes a mistake, the damage is often irrevocable. While no amount of money can completely erase any damages caused by these mistakes, money is usually the only available remedy.

For more than a decade, Florida law has had placed a cap on the amount of money that patients can recover from medical malpractice suits against a doctor. Patients or loved ones seeking non-economic damages for pain and suffering have been limited to recovering $500,000. Compensation for economic damages, however, has remained unlimited. In other words, if you or your loved one was injured severely due to a doctor’s mistake, and it resulted in pain and suffering (e.g., mental anguish, emotional trauma, etc.), the amount of compensation available has been restricted.

As of June 9th of this year, this is no longer the law. The Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, found these caps to be unconstitutional. It reasoned that the caps on non-economic damages arbitrarily decreased the monetary amount that could be awarded to persons who have suffered the most drastic injuries without actually taking into consideration the severity of the injury. The Supreme Court ruled that this violated equal-protection rights.

This decision marks a huge milestone in the long-time, controversial battle over the issue of caps on pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.

The issue became a major policy platform for the Florida Legislature in the early 2000’s. The then-Governor, Jeb Bush, enacted the bill in 2003 as a response to what was being considered a crisis of high insurance premiums. He argued that the bill would lower the cost of medical malpractice insurance, and therefore prevent doctors from limiting or closing their practices.

Bush’s justification for pushing the 2003 bill was at the core of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it.   The majority opinion noted that no evidence of continuing high malpractice insurance crisis exists. Thus, there is no proper justification for placing arbitrary caps on some medical malpractice victims, and not others.

This decision arises out of a Broward County case involving carpal tunnel patient, Susan Kalitan, and the severe injuries she sustained after an anesthesia tube punctured her esophagus during surgery. Although Kalitan complained of back and chest pain after waking up from surgery, the attending doctors sent her home with pain medications. Kalitan was found unconscious the next day, rushed to the hospital, and placed in a drug-induced coma for several weeks. Despite numerous surgeries and intensive therapy, Kalitan is still mentally scarred and remains in immense pain.

Kalitan filed a lawsuit in 2008, and the jury awarded her a total of $4 million for past and future pain and suffering. Due to the medical malpractice cap law at the time, this award was reduced by approximately $3.3 million. Upon appeal, the caps were ruled unconstitutional with the court citing a 2014 Supreme Court decision in a wrongful death case.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld the appeals court’s ruling in its decision earlier this month, where the majority received a lot of pushback from the other Justices.

The dissent, written by J. Ricky Polston and joined by J. Canady and J. Lawson, contends that the majority went well beyond its role as the judiciary and wrongly barged its way into legislative territory. It notes that the Court does not have the constitutional authority to enact and change laws on policy on the basis of facts that it itself improperly decides. The Legislature, on the other hand, does have the power to create laws regarding policy based on facts that it finds. The dissent opines that the majority overstepped its role by deciding to overturn the existing statute because it disagreed with the Legislature’s finding that there is still a continuing crisis.

In light of the controversy surrounding this recent court decision, it is clear that the battle over the issue of medical malpractice caps is still ongoing in Florida.

The ruling is likely to have a heavy impact on medical malpractice cases moving forward. Patients and their loved ones will no longer have to settle for a reduced amount in monetary damages for their pain and suffering. Furthermore, law firms handling medical malpractice cases are more likely to pursue cases that they may have previously avoided under the 2003 law due to high litigation costs and less profitability.

If you feel that you have sustained injuries as a result of medical malpractice and would like to have an experienced, established, and proven successful plaintiffs attorney take a closer look at your case, call the personal injury attorneys at Friedland Law Group now.

The South Florida personal injury attorneys at the Friedland Law Group, Jon Friedland and Michael Carmona, handle all types of negligence, product liability, personal injury, negligent security, slip/trip and fall, and car accident cases throughout the state of Florida, including; Boca Raton, Homestead, North Miami, South Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Pembroke Pines, Hialeah, Kendall, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach. Call the Miami personal injury attorneys today and let our family take the best care of your family.