Florida Supreme Court Rules: When Malpractice Caps Apply

In May of 2015 the Florida Supreme Court handed down an interesting split decision on when and whether medical malpractice caps apply. The case dates back to 2003 when the cap on how much a victim of medical malpractice in Florida can recover was established. The limit is based on non-economic damages.

The High Court’s decision comes after several appeals and decisions by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals. That Court was of the opinion that the medical malpractice damages should apply in this case, but the Florida Supreme Court had a different view of things. The new decision will not have a major impact on medical malpractice cases going forward, but it will shape how future Florida courts address the applicability of newly passed legislation.

Cancer Patient Suffers from Medical Malpractice

In 2002, the woman who brought this suit was diagnosed with skin cancer. She sought treatment for cancer, and eventually had a cancerous tumor removed from her leg by her oncologist. As most patients do, she sought a second opinion to ensure that no cancer remained and that she was making the right decisions with her treatment. It was the second opinion that caused her problems.

The doctor who gave her a second opinion told her that she needed additional surgery to make sure the cancer was fully removed. Thinking that was the right thing to do, the patient followed her doctor’s opinion and got the surgery. But there were several complications due to the second surgery. She developed an infection in her leg, and suffered pain and swelling following the surgery, some of which lasts until today. The worst part of the whole experience, though, was the fact that the surgery was not needed after all. Like her first doctor had said, there was no additional cancer and no additional surgery was needed.

Florida Passes Medical Malpractice Caps in 2003

All of this took place in January of 2003, just before the new law on medical malpractice caps was passed by the Florida legislature. At the time, there was a fierce debate raging over medical malpractice lawsuits. One side was arguing that lawsuits were driving healthcare costs, while another advocated for patient rights. Florida was one of a handful of states who passed these kinds of caps. The law in question, Florida Statutes 766.118(2), caps recovery for pain and suffering in most medical malpractice cases at $500,000. Ever controversial, this worked to lower victims’ recoveries, but a recent study shows that it has done next to nothing in reducing healthcare costs overall.

Woman Sues Over Medical Malpractice, Supreme Court Rules on Case

Following the passage of the medical malpractice caps law, the woman in this case decided to sue the doctor for the malpractice she continued to suffer from. The case was taken to a jury who returned a verdict compensating her for her actual, economic damages, and $1.5 million in pain and suffering due to the medical malpractice. After the trial was over, the doctor’s lawyers argued to the trial judge that the verdict should be reversed in light of the new law that was passed. But the judge disagreed, writing that the law was passed after the woman suffered her injury.

After being ruled on by the trial court, the 3rd District Court of Appeals reversed saying that the law should be applied and the award reduced. It was at this point, nearly 9 years later, that the Florida Supreme Court entered and ruled the the medical malpractice cap law did not apply because the woman suffered the injury prior to the passage of the law, and her right to a cause of action vested (became real) before the law was passed. Therefore it would be unconstitutional for the law to apply retroactively.

A Law Firm for All Personal Injury Claims

This case is yet another example of how the law can change and affect victims. That is why it is so important to hire an attorney dedicated to personal injury law. At The Pittman Firm, we fight for victims of accidents and injuries in the Panama City area. Contact us so we can evaluate your case for you.

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