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Medical Malpractice Caps: Florida Supreme Court Review

A recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court brought a medical malpractice case from early 2003 to a close. The issue surrounded Florida’s controversial medical malpractice cap law that was also passed in 2003. The Court was tasked with determining whether the new cap law would apply retroactively to a woman injured by medical malpractice prior to passage of the act.

The split decision was controversial to at least two of the justices who felt like the High Court did not have the authority to hear the case. Originating out of Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals, the decision tried to strike a balance between respecting the legislature’s intent in passing the law and being fair to the woman in the case. The nature of this decision will not likely impact future medical malpractice cases, but it will shape how decisions regarding the applicability of newly passed legislation will apply in future cases.

The Law in Question

The law was passed in 2003 when states all over the country were debating whether to pass tort reform laws in an effort to reduce healthcare costs. One of the first states to pass the law was Florida. Part of the tort reform capped medical malpractice recoveries to $500,000 in non-economic damages. In turn, that limited how much a victim of medical malpractice could recover for her pain and suffering following a botched procedure or other medical mistake. At the time it was controversial, and it has not become less so since then.

The law capping medical malpractice recoveries is found in Florida Statutes 766.118. At the time, the hope was that it would help curb the ever increasing costs of healthcare. But a recent study of states that passed tort reform laws reveals that such measures have done little or nothing to reduce healthcare costs. So in reality, the caps have simply limited how much a victim of negligence can recover for her pain and suffering.

The Facts of the Case

The woman at the heart of this case suffered mightily due to medical malpractice. In 2002 she was diagnosed with skin cancer. Soon after being diagnosed, she was treated for the cancer, including an operation on her leg to remove a tumor. At the end of the operation she was declared cancer free by her first set of physicians. But as nearly all people do, she sought a second opinion to make sure she was making the right decisions. It was the second opinion and treatment that caused her problems.

Her second doctor recommended that she have additional surgery to ensure that all the cancer was gone. Being in a vulnerable situation where she had to decide what to do, she decided to have the operation. But there were several complications that happened because of the second surgery. She was admitted to the hospital for an infection, and she suffered postoperative pain and swelling, some of which lasts today. But the worst part of her ordeal came when she learned that the surgery was entirely unnecessary. It was soon after that the woman sued, seeking to be compensated for the negligence of her second doctor.

A Trial, Appeal, and Final Decision

At trial the woman won her case against the doctor. The jury in the case returned a verdict for her actual damages, and a $1.5 million verdict for her pain and suffering. But the doctor’s attorneys argued that the verdict should be reduced to the cap of $500,000. The trial disagreed, but the 3rd District court of appeals granted the motion and reduced the award.

After a long period of litigation over the result, the case finally made it to the Supreme Court. In its decision, the Supreme Court of Florida decided that the cap would not apply for several reasons. The chief among those reasons was the fact that the case began prior to the law’s passage. That meant that the woman’s right to sue and recover was vested, or real, and could not be amended by the legislature. Now, after years of legal battles, the woman will finally recover for her pain and suffering due to medical malpractice.

What to Do in Medical Malpractice Cases

These kinds of cases can be very complex. Florida has numerous law, rules, and regulations that must be understood in a medical malpractice case. That is why it is important to hire attorneys that focus their practice on personal injuries. At Alan Goldfarb, P.A. our attorneys serve the entire Miami area. Contact us so we can evaluate your case for you.

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