Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Caps on Non-Economic Damages as Unconstitutional

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On March 13, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court issued a 5-2 ruling that invalidated Florida statutes that place caps on the recoverable non-economic damages in medical negligence (malpractice) cases. In 2003, then-governor Jeb Bush called a special session of Florida lawmakers to reform medical malpractice cases. One of the laws to come out of the "special session" was a statute that limits the amount of non-economic damages from death or injuries caused by medical negligence to $500,000 to each plaintiff, and no more than $1M from all defendants the lawsuit.

Non-economic damages are damages found by the jury for: pain, suffering, mental anguish, physical impairment and loss of enjoyment of life, physical disfigurement, and loss of consortium (loved one). These are the damages that do not have an invoice or a bill and, as such, are difficult to quantify with mathematical precision. Historically, such damages were left the jury to determine on a case by case basis after hearing the evidence. However, in 2003, Florida and other states, including Texas, decided to place arbitrary caps on the non-economic damages that can be recovered without hearing any evidence of any case that would be subject to the caps.

Justice R. Fred Lewis, writing for the Florida Supreme Court, held that limiting those types of damages violates the state constitution's equal protection clause and "fails because it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claimants. In such circumstances, medical malpractice claimants do not receive the same rights...because of arbitrarily diminished compensation."

This decision means that those injured by medical negligence, and their families, will have the chance to receive full compensation for their losses in Florida. In other words, a jury of their peers will hear the case and evidence and will assess the amount of fair compensation, without any arbitrary or capricious cap imposition. Unfortunately, for those living in Texas, the caps are still in effect. In addition, the caps in Texas are much lower than those in Florida that were just invalidated and, therefore, much worse for anyone injured by medical negligence in Texas. Perhaps Texas will take a look at its arbitrary caps on non-economic damages.

If you or someone you know have been injured or killed due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584.

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