Does Florida cap medical malpractice damages?

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

Question

Does Florida cap medical malpractice damages?

Answer

In statute, yes. In practice (for now), no. Like many other states, Florida has a number of laws on the books that limit or "cap" certain damages that are available to a medical malpractice plaintiff who has been successful in a lawsuit against a doctor or other health care professional.

As is true in most states, Florida's medical malpractice damage caps apply only to a plaintiff's noneconomic damages. That means compensation for things like pain and suffering, mental anguish, anxiety, loss of companionship, scarring, disfigurement, and other subjective losses stemming from the defendant's malpractice. These caps do not apply to an injured patient's economic damages. In other words, there is no limit on the amount of compensation a medical malpractice plaintiff can recover for past and future medical care necessitated by the malpractice, lost income, lost future earning capacity, and any other measurable economic losses attributable to the defendant's malpractice.

Florida also uses different caps for "medical practitioners" (cases involving errors by doctors and other care providers) versus "non-practitioner" defendants. In medical malpractice lawsuits against practitioners, the Florida statute (Fla. Stat. § 766.118) sets the cap at $500,000 in most cases. However, the cap goes up to $1 million if the malpractice caused death or a vegetative state, or in certain cases involving catastrophic injuries with particularly severe noneconomic damages. In cases involving nonpractitioner defendants, the law caps noneconomic damages at $750,000 or $1.5 million.

However, in a June 2017 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the caps set by this statute are unconstitutional. In North Broward Hosp. Dist. v. Kalitan, the state's highest appellate court found that the limits "arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries," because the same $1 or $1.5 million limit in Fla. Stat. § 766.118 would apply to someone who loses a hand (which counts as a catastrophic injury in the law's definition) and to someone left in a permanent vegetative state. Therefore, the law violated the Florida constitution's equal protection clause.

by: , J.D.

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