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Huge News: Florida Supreme Court Overturns Law Limiting Damages in Wrongful Death Claims

Posted By Regan Zambri & Long || 21-Mar-2014

Did you recently lose a loved one in an accident or due to someone’s negligence or carelessness? If so, a recent decision rendered by the Florida Supreme Court could have major implications for your wrongful death case.

Putting a price on a human life is never an easy proposition. The moral, ethical, even philosophical implications are profound. Yet the law still needs guidelines to regulate the process of wrongful death claims.

In its recent decision, the Florida Supreme Court drove a stake through the heart of a 2003 Florida law that had been designed to overhaul medical malpractice suits. The court rightfully bashed the legislature for confabulating an alleged "medical malpractice crisis" in Florida. The idea that “too many frivolous lawsuits” needlessly burden good physicians and hike up medical insurance liability premiums may sound good on paper to some people. But the evidence just isn’t there to support this hypothesis.

The Supreme Court said as much: “…the finding by the Legislature and the Task Force that Florida was in the midst of a bona fide medical malpractice crisis, threatening the access of Floridians to health care, is dubious and questionable at the very best."

The Court then (also, rightfully) laid the blame on high premiums on the insurance companies themselves. It noted that, since the 2003 legislation passed, four insurance companies that specialize in medical malpractice products saw their net income rise by 4,300 percent.

That’s not a typo. Their income rose by 4,300 percent!

The Supreme Court offered a commonsense suggestion: “the insurance industry should pass savings onto Florida physicians in the form of reduced medical malpractice insurance premiums.”

The 5-2 decision, written by Justice R. Fred Lewis, will end the cap on “non-economic” damages in wrongful death suits due to medical malpractice. Analysts said the 2003 law wasn’t fair because it treated someone hurt by medical malpractice differently than someone hurt due to other types of negligence or wrongful actions.

The case involved a 20-year-old woman, Michelle McCall, who bled to death after a C section at a Fort Walton Beach Hospital. McCall had been a member of a military family, so her estate was able to sue the federal government in the wrongful death case. Her estate would have been awarded $2 million in non-economic damages, but the court limited the award to just $1 million, per the 2003 law.

The estate appealed. The 11 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta found the damage limits Constitutional. But the Florida Supreme Court said, in effect, "not so fast," noting that Florida state Constitutional issues needed to be considered as well.

Judge Lewis had scathing language for the 2003 law: “The statutory cap on non-economic damage fails because it imposes unfair and illogical burdens on injured parties when an act of medical negligence gives rise to multiple claims… there is no rational relationship to a legitimate state objective.”

And as for the insinuation that Florida had been in a state of “unprecedented crisis” regarding med mal, Lewis referred to statistics that demonstrated “the number of physicians in Florida were actually increasing, not decreasing” at the time of the 2003 bill’s passage and that “even the task force whose report was relied upon by the Florida Legislature employed extremely equivocal language and speculation when describing the existence of crisis.”

It makes tons of sense that the Court struck down this eccentric and mean spirited law on equal protection grounds.

For a free, confidential consultation about your D.C. wrongful death case, connect with the team at Regan Zambri and Long today at (202) 759-6699.
 

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