On March 13, 2014 in a 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court found that caps on non-economic damages violates the state’s equal protection clause. When there are multiple plaintiffs the compensation that each individual receives is significantly less due to the maximum a case can win, making it unfair for the deceased’s survivors.
The caps were initially set in place in attempt to stabilize malpractice insurance and to prevent an unnecessary rise in health care costs. Opponents contend that without caps, malpractice insurance will sky-rocket and the number of lawsuits will increase making it too risky for doctors to practice in Florida, especially those that perform more dangerous procedures. This in turn may force doctors to move their practices out of the state making it more difficult for patients to find necessary health care. However, the court noted that “the conclusions reached by the Florida Legislature as to the existence of a medical malpractice crises are not fully supported by available data.” Therefore, the ruling that the caps are “unconstitutional” per Florida state law, should not drastically affect access to health care but will in turn allow families to be rightfully compensated for their loss.
This decision is a huge win for medical malpractice and plaintiff’s lawyers generally in Florida. It also has particular significance as Florida legislators will soon be voting on a similar law that would impact a patient’s right to sue their doctors by allowing physicians to compel their patients to sign a waiver requiring them to go to arbitration for malpractice claims. This decision could also influence several other states that are facing similar cases involving “tort reform” throughout the country.
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